Happy Memorial Day is an oxymoron. If we instead say happy Memorial day, with the emphasis on Memorial, then it makes a little more sense. For those of us whose every day is Memorial Day, the inclusion of the word, much less the thought happy, feels like a betrayal. And that is understandable but it is not the way it has to be.
This year I choose to say and strive for happy, maybe even with a capital H. This year I choose to celebrate all that we are as a people, all that we have as a Nation because of the sacrifice of those few whom Memorial Day honors.
Memorial Day is not about every person who ever wore our nation’s uniforms – that is Veteran’s Day.
Memorial Day is not about those currently serving – that is Armed Forces Day.
Who we are, our ideals, our hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow are all made possible by those two revered groups, our veterans and active duty military. But, Memorial Day is the one day of the year when we all, including those whose service is recognized on those other days, remember that of all the millions who have served this nation, signed on the dotted line, held up their right hand and swore the oath to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”, some honored that oath with their very lives. They above all others know the truth in the adage, All gave some, some gave all.
There is a rare and remarkable, poignant beauty in that statement. And there is happiness and joy as well.
For those of us whose every day is Memorial Day, when we see others respecting and recognizing the meaning of this day, we feel just a little less alone. Our grief is a palpable thing, an omnipresent, terrible companion that too often blocks our view of the happiness and joy around us. This Memorial Day, I choose to see the barbeques, family gatherings and day off school that for too many represent the sum total of the purpose of the day as a successful fulfillment of the sacrifice the day commemorates.
I am choosing to see these expressions of the holiday as how my son would want the day observed. Everyone who knew him will smile at the thought of what Andrew would do if an occasion became too somber for too long. Particularly if that somberness was over him. That would be a fun conversation, debating what goofiness he would pull out.
Andrew was a very deep thinker who hid that side of himself most of the time. What he chose to show most often was his silliness, his jokester self, particularly if those around him, those he cared for, were upset or feeling blue. Nearly every person he served with has told stories of how he could lighten any moment with a joke, a self-deprecating wisecrack or just his smile.
Even for a fun-loving soul like Andrew, however, there were serious moments. War is serious. War is hard, physically, mentally and emotionally. But, when the patrol was done, life was meant to be lived. Ask any veteran of a war zone past or present what he wanted the people back home to remember and you’ll get some version of Andrew's stock response –
People need to remember and respect the fact that we are here in this hell hole so they can live in a country that allows them to celebrate, worship, play and live as they choose. I want them to take just a moment (on this one day of the year) to stop whatever they are doing and recognize that others have given their lives to protect their ability, their right to do what they are doing. Celebrate the fact that others have given you this great gift, the freedom to live this life you choose. Be happy.
For all those, particularly my Gold Stars, who are angry over the sad fact that too many Americans either don’t know or don’t recognize the meaning of this day, much less respect the price of the freedoms they are enjoying, I wish you peace. And I ask you to remember that your heroes, all our heroes died knowing that most people are clueless, and that they have that luxury because of the choice and sacrifice of our loved ones. As for me and mine, we will try to smile and laugh. And have a happy if not Happy, Memorial Day weekend.
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