When did Memorial Day lose its meaning?
Memorial Day is coming up in a few days, and for most of us, that means it’s time for picnics and, if the weather’s warm enough, pool parties.
My family’s always spent Memorial Day together, eating grilled hot dogs and burgers. But this year, not everyone will be celebrating together.
Somehow, the meaning of Memorial Day has never been something I could personally identify with – I’ve never had to go to war, never lost anyone in a battle. The only veterans in my immediate family were my grandfathers, and they seldom spoke about their traumatic experiences.
But now, things have changed. One of my brothers became a Marine this year, and is currently in Twentynine Palms training in electrical maintenance. Even though he’s essentially becoming an electrician, at the end of the day he’s a Marine, which means he could still get shipped off to a war zone and into the line of fire.
He’s enlisted for eight years. That’s a long time, when you think of all the countries we’re in conflict with.
This Memorial Day, I’ll be thinking about sacrifice, about what living by the Marine motto, “Semper Fidelis,” or “Always Faithful,” might mean for him. A lot can happen in eight years. If he’s sent overseas, will he come back alive? Will he come back himself? What could that mean for our family?
The reality of able-bodied young men and women going off to war is something my grandparents had to deal with. For them, it was a common occurrence. But that awareness didn’t make the loss of the health or lives of those young men and women easier to bear. Memorial Day mattered – and still matters – to them because they understand what it means.
When did Memorial Day stop mattering to the generations after my grandparents’? Do we need to be in a war to shake us awake, to draw our nation together, to make us realize the lives of the soldiers who die overseas matter?
Twenty-two-year-old U.S. Army Specialist Gabriel Conde was killed by hostile fire last month in Afghanistan. He could have been my brother. He could have been your son or your nephew.
His life mattered. He was too young to die. His body was programmed to grow old with age and die from natural causes. It wasn’t supposed to be stopped by a piece of metal.
Is it possible for the majority of U.S. citizens to care about Memorial Day without it being made personal to them? I begin to doubt that is possible, since it took me this long to care about it myself.
But just because most people might not understand why Memorial Day matters, doesn’t mean those who can care, who value human life, should stop. No. Instead, we need to remind ourselves and those around us about the men and women who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedom.
This Memorial Day, let’s remember them, and those stationed too far from home to enjoy a picnic or time with family.
And, while we remember, don’t forget to devour a hot dog or two.