Remembering the true meaning of Memorial Day

Is it is Memorial Day weekend, which again leads to the question, “How can we repay them?” The answer is we can’t. But we can remember them and their ultimate sacrifice. We can recall the fears they faced and the courage they showed in the face of those fears.

We can honor them. And we should.

All that remains of these fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen are the white headstones that cross the green fields of Arlington in perfect rows aligned, fittingly, in military precision. Monuments, often adorned for the holiday with U.S. flags, spot cemeteries in small towns and big cities alike across this nation.

Too many graves.

These fallen warriors stretch back to a time when there was no technology to record their too brief passage on this Earth. Paintings were reserved for the famous and the wealthy, not a common soldier. In modern times their images are preserved in photos and videos. There they are again, happy, smiling and alive, before war took them away.

They, too, once celebrated Memorial Day weekend for its other meaning — the unofficial start of summer, with its picnics and cookouts, family gatherings and promise of warm vacations to come. And they would want us to continue enjoying those things. Because it is what they fought and died for, to preserve a nation with its many gifts and opportunities, and the freedom to argue politics over some hot dogs — but not for too long.

If you lost a family member, friend or comrade, no one will have to tell you to remember. You will. As a community we can collectively honor these sacrifices by attending a parade, participating in a memorial service, or in reflection and prayer.

Failing to remember those who gave all not only does a disservice to them, but to ourselves. Because by failing to remember we can forget the true cost of war. It is our duty as citizens to challenge our elected leaders and demand to know the national security interests that are at stake when they send our men and women into harm’s way. And if we disagree, we should let that be known.

Those in military service cannot question. They must follow all lawful orders. And their sacrifice will be as great whether in furtherance of a clear goal or the result of an intervention convoluted by foggy objectives and politics.

That is their burden. A burden that, as we have noted in the past, was eloquently referenced by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1962 when, just two years from his own death, he addressed the graduating cadets at West Point.

“The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words – Duty, Honor, Country.

“This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must bear and suffer the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, the wisest of all philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’”

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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