Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day to honor those Americans lost during the Civil War, now honors and commemorates all American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Many Americans have forgotten, or perhaps they’ve never really known, what the true meaning of the day is for. Most will celebrate the three-day “holiday” weekend by starting their summer… days at the beach or camping out, BBQs and enjoying family and friends. Not once, will many of them even stop for a moment to reflect on the very reason they have the weekend to celebrate at all.
It seems that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prediction in 1941 has come to pass, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men died to win them.”
Tonight, I walked around my local cemetery looking at the numerous headstones, which had been decorated with American flags for the weekend. Many of the flags had been knocked down due to the fierce storm we had the night before, so I spent time righting flags, saluting fallen comrades and thanking them for their service and sacrifice. It also made me wonder, why we decorated the final resting places of our military heroes only for the weekend? Why we don’t ensure that the American flag, the very one they pledged to support and the one, many died defending, is not permanently flown over their headstones?
As I walked between the rows of stones, drawn to those marked with flags, I stopped at each one I came across for a moment of quiet reflection. Not all had died in service of their country, but all had served and that was good enough for me. Young men, like SP4
Ronald Gordon Smith, USARV, who was killed in Vietnam. He was 19 when he arrived in country on May 14, 1967, as a soldier with Co. A, 2nd BN, 1st Inf., 196th Infantry Brigade and celebrated his birthday a short 18 days later on the fields of the Republic of Vietnam. He drew his last breath at age 20 on Nov. 21, 1967 in a battle in the Quang Tin Province, six short months after arriving. He is remembered on panel 30E, line 60 on the Vietnam Wall and I came across this memory shared online on Memorial Day 1999 from one of his friends which shows he was very much loved and is missed, “Dearest Smitty, In three days you could have been 52 years old-as I am. You could have had a wife, children, and a dog-a whole and complete life. Instead you will always be 20 years old in my mind, driving a red Corvair, smiling and laughing. I still love you as my best high school friend. I think of you so often still and pray God’s blessings on you in heaven and on your family and friends left on earth. I love you, Judy.”
Since the dawn of our country, more than 42 million men and women have served to protect this great land of ours, and more than 1.3 million have died doing so. It seems the least we can do is spend a few moments reflecting on those who have given their lives in combat so that we can live ours in freedom.
As the years pass, it becomes easier to forget the person behind the name, and so it falls on our shoulders; the legacy holders – the parents, spouses, children, siblings and friends – to tell the story our soldiers can no longer tell. This Memorial Day, before you fire up the BBQ, take a moment to reflect on all of our fallen countrymen and women of all wars and the sacrifice they have made on our behalf and to remember that our freedom has never been free.
In Flanders Field
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields