Some of my readers may remember a previous blog post I did this past Veterans Day. Today we receive yet another day off from work and/or school for a different military holiday, Memorial Day. Now, one of the most common questions that one asks regarding these holidays is “What is the difference?” They seem as if it is just one holiday which repeats itself just to give us a little break. However the distinction between these two holidays is as large as the difference between life and death, quite literally. Veterans Day is a broader holiday that is meant to honor all men and women, both past and present, who have every served in the United States Armed Services. Memorial Day on the other hand specifically is meant to be a day to honor those soldiers who have died in the line of duty. There is one problem however in this modern day in that most of us have not even mourned at a funeral for a family member until adulthood, so how can we mourn for someone whom we have never met? Death is such an abstract concept to most Americans, especially children and teenagers.
I am not innocent in this. As much as people love to talk about the grand size of the military complex, only about 2% of the population actually serves in the military. We seem to be so numb and indifferent to death because death is something that is so remote and far away. We read in textbooks about the 600,000 who died in the Civil war, the 58,000 who died in Vietnam, or the 4,487 in Iraq. It is hard for one to feel such a deep respect and mourn for a number. A soldier actually dying is thought to be something that occurs only in movie theaters. Too few of us (thankfully) personally know someone who has died while serving in the military.
So the question is; how do we make Memorial Day more than just a three day weekend for Barbeques, vacations, and sales at retail stores? In the past I was quite indifferent towards Memorial Day and thought of it as any other random holiday to make a three day weekend. How I came about to feel so strongly about this holiday occurred four years ago when I and my classmates went to visit Washington D.C.. We had been warned about Arlington National Cemetery being a place where few people go without crying, but it seemed like a simple overreaction. I knew it was big but what I saw was overwhelming for my young eyes. The picture for this blog as actually taken by me at the cemetery and I feel captures the gravity of what I felt. Rows upon rows of white tombstones far as the eye can see with pink cherry blossom trees scattered throughout. And when I say as far as the eye can see a mean that quite literally, the graves continued beyond my field of vision. I was surrounded by nothing but graves with seemingly no end in sight. And then of course there is the new section for those from Iraq and Afghanistan. Seeing new graves being dug out and the families weeping by the tombstones made me realize that each one of these soldiers had a family, someone they left behind in their stead. It took over one million dead soldiers for me to have the life I have now, over one million. The least I or any of us can do is remember that.