Below The Beltway

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by @ 9:21 am on May 29, 2006. Filed under History

Congress established Memorial Day in 1868 to honor the memory of the hundreds of thousands of men killed in the bloody four years of the American Civil War. Since then, it has grown to honor the sacrifice of all of America’s war dead from the Revolution through World War Two, Vietnam, and today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, its turned into something quite different. The unofficial beginning of summer vacation season. A day for the beach, barbeques, sales and the mall, or even a day to buy a new car. As Colbert I King, who I rarely agree with, writes in the Washington Post, this can’t be what today was intended to be about.

This cannot be what Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, had in mind when he officially proclaimed Memorial Day on May 5, 1868. His thought, as best I can tell, was to set aside a day to honor the war dead. The true meaning of Memorial Day, however, has been overcome by door-buster sales, backyard cookouts and the opportunity to get a little extra sleep.

The fallen don’t seem to mean much anymore except, perhaps, to veterans of previous wars and their families, and to the nearly 5,000 mothers and fathers of men and women in uniform who have given their all in Iraq. To those parents, please add surviving brothers and sisters, wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, neighbors and friends. If these folks happen to gather on Memorial Day, most likely it won’t be to organize a shop-a-rama or barbecue. For them, Monday will be the time to remember loved ones who lost their lives serving their country.

There isn’t anything wrong with this, of course; the wars that we have fought have allowed us to live in a country where we are free to do what we want and spend our free time as we wish. One wonders, though, if the people at the mall or the beach even realize what this day is all about.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, beginning with the American Revolution and continuing through the war on terrorism (as of Sept. 30, 2005), there were 652,696 American battle deaths, including 53,402 in World War I; 291,557 in World War II; 33,741 in the Korean War; 47,424 in Vietnam; and 147 in Desert Shield-Desert Storm. Those totals don’t include the other Americans who died in those theaters of war. That total comes to 14,416. To devote one day to the honor of 667,112 American souls should not be asking too much. Evidently it is.

King goes on to write about the National Moment of Remberance, born by a Congressional resolution which asks Americans to spend one moment today — 3pm to be precise — in which they “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.’ ” Yes, it is sad that we’ve gone from an entire day devoted to the memory of the fallen to one moment squeezed in between the hot dogs and the volleyball game but it is, as King writes, the least we can do.

The resolution notwithstanding, on Monday, some folks will go on nonchalantly as if there isn’t a war on. They’ll be so distracted in their pursuit of a good time that they will be oblivious to the fact that some of the country’s finest are in Iraq and Afghanistan paying with their lives. And the cruel truth, which the comfortable here at home will also ignore, is that today’s troops slugging it out overseas — conveniently out of sight and mind — are bearing a disproportionately heavy load when it comes to heeding the call to service.

They, more than any other group of Americans, are bearing the brunt of decisions made by politicians in Washington. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — not the well-protected people in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and Congress — are the ones losing arms, legs and life itself. An indebted nation owes them more than can ever be repaid. A single, uncluttered day of honor would be a good start. It’s the least a grateful America can do.

Well said.



These pictures, as well as the one at the top, are from my trip last July to Arlington National Cemetary. I can think of no better way to remember this day.

Others marking the day today: Combs Spouts Off, The Wright Wing, Outside The Beltway, Lorie Byrd @ Wizbang, Kim Priestap @ Wizbang, Michelle Malkin, Crazy Politicos Rantings, Spark It Up!!!, Commonwealth Conservative, OPFOR, Right Wing Nuthouse, California Conservative, Brendan Loy, Cathouse Chat

6 Responses to “Remember”

  1. Memorial Day 2006

    Please keep those who served in the military in your thoughts and prayers on this Memorial Day 2006. And also remember those veterans who served in the military as well as those currently serving.

    Some links in regards to the Memorial Day obser…

  2. Remembering Memorial Day

    Remembering and honoring those gone before us and those that still fight for our freedoms in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today Freedom Watch honors those that keep a vigilant watch always putting freedom above all so that we may live in a free democracy sa…

  3. [...] Well, it’s Memorial Day, and I hope most of you are enjoying a day off of work. I know I am. California Conservative is running an open trackback post for bloggers who are sharing memories and stories; Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway has a nice post with some photos from Arlington National Cemetary; and my man Christopher Hitchens reflects on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice: Since all efforts at commemoration are bound to fall short, one must be on guard against any attempt at overstatement. In particular, one must resist efforts to ventriloquize the dead. To me, Cindy Sheehan’s posthumous conscription of her son is as objectionable as Billy Graham’s claim, at the National Cathedral, that all the dead of Sept. 11, 2001 were now in paradise. In the first instance, we have no reason to believe that young Casey Sheehan would ever have supported, and in the second instance we cannot be expected to believe that almost 3,000 New Yorkers all died in a state of grace. Nothing is more tasteless, when set against the reality of death, than the hollow note of demagogy and false sentiment. These things are also subject to unintended consequences. When Dalton Trumbo wrote his leftist antiwar classic “Johnnie Got His Gun,” he little expected that it would be used as a propaganda tool by pro-fascist isolationists in the late 1930s, and that he would be protesting in vain that this was not what he had really meant. [...]

  4. Eric says:

    Thanks Doug

  5. Memorial Day, 2006

    Today is Memorial Day. Today, we remember the brave and honorable men and women who sacrificed so much to keep our country safe and free. How can we even begin to properly honor their memory, or to say a true

  6. Thanks for remembering thos who’ve paid for our freedom, and for the link.

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