This post originally posted on my facebook page on Memorial Day 2013. It has been modified slightly from the original version. I left active duty in November of 2015, although I have not edited the tone of this post to reflect my change from Sailor to veteran.
As we close in on another day of remembrance, Americans should take a moment to think about Memorial Day, and what it means, before posting a stock image of a casket or a flag and proclaiming to be thankful. I hope they will consider making great use of the blood paid for their freedom. That is the best way to honor our war dead. Here are my two cents.
Since 1776, every generation of Americans has one thing in common- close relatives killed in war. Every generation has been able to claim a kinship to a grandfather, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter killed in war in the last 240 years.
That gives us Memorial Day. A day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the American way of life. Yet, with each generation, the American way of life seems to mean something different. There seems to be some diminishing of the ideals that were once worth dying for and an increasing indifference to those who are still willing to die.
Indeed there might even be a reduction in the amount of young men and women who join the military with the idea that they are making a commitment to die for American way of life. At times, it seems that some of my brothers and sisters in arms are surprised when faced with danger.
That was not always the case. During World War II, young men would lie about their age and run away from home for the chance to fight for America. Perhaps that is why they are known as the “Greatest Generation”. Nowadays, young men and women are enticed into military service with the idea of a free education after their enlistment. Their pay and benefits become the subject of political debate and they are often used as pawns in a political game. Seventy years ago, men on their way to the slaughter did not have such concerns.
The change in politics and the passage of time does not diminish the sacrifice, however, of those 6000+ young men and women who have died in the last 15 years of war. The dead from Vietnam are no less sacred although many of them were pressed into service.
There is a moment in which every member of the military realizes that they are bound to sacrifice, and they overcome the politics and personal concerns afforded the rest of Americans.
That moment may come on the battlefield or at a training evolution in the safety of the US. It may come when waving goodbye to a loved one at the airport or while reading a letter from home while sailing in foreign waters. However it comes, it does come. We all realize that we must sacrifice even if we didn’t get involved with a sense of sacrifice.
Does that mean that we are ready to die in defense of our country? I like to think it does for me. Regardless of the way our Constitution is torn apart by politics and greed. Regardless of how our national monuments are prostituted out on-camera in speeches that no longer even have the pretense of American pride. Regardless of the way we are asked each day to give more liberty for questionable security. I like to think the ideals that founded our nation are still worth dying for.
I cannot speak for my brothers and sisters in arms. They will have their moment to discover whether they are ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.
There was a time when a tin cup of crayons gave me solace. When a soft blanket made me feel safe enough to sleep. When naptime at school was my biggest nemesis. Memorial Day is about celebrating the men and women who gave me that reality. My job is to make sure that reality is available to future generations.
Memorial Day is your chance to honor their sacrifice. Is it best to do it by posting a photo of grave stones on a social networking site? Is it best to do it by thanking a current or former service member? In my opinion, your best tribute can come from taking a moment to read our Constitution. To embrace its ideals and to cherish the opportunity it promises to each individual citizen. America must be more than a collection of war dead. It must also be a group of people who are willing to uphold the ideals that made this the greatest country in the world.
Please share your thoughts in the comments, and share this post on social media if you think Memorial Day should be about more than hanging flags on light poles downtown.