Memorial Day 2018 has come and gone. For most Americans, that long weekend marks the unofficial start of Summer, filled with fireworks, barbecues, and family outings.
For a much smaller slice of America, Memorial Day has a completely different meaning: it is the day when we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, whether they be family or friends. During a time when no more than 1% of the population serves in our armed forces, the significance of Memorial Day is lost on many people. A smaller percentage of Americans whom actually serve translates to a smaller number of people who count a serviceman or woman as a member of their family, or as a spouse or friend. Not enough Americans have a true appreciation for service and sacrifice.
This holds true for those afflicted with life-threatening medical conditions like cancer or heart disease: we feel terrible for them and their families, and say prayers and send flowers, but we REALLY can’t grasp the gravity of their illness and its effects on their loved ones.
There is one way in which vets and their families share their pain with other Americans: the increase in violence in our schools, and the number of police officers and young people dying during routine traffic stops has increased. It really seems that the flower of our nation is being killed off.
When a young person’s life-whether military or civilian-is cut short, it’s not just their families and friends who suffer and feel a void.
We as a country, and as a society lose whatever contributions that young person might have accomplished during their lifetime. They could have been a community leader, a firefighter, a police officer, a doctor, college professor, or a scientist. Or a researcher who finds a cure for cancer. But that all ends abruptly, leaving us not knowing what was to come, and how much better they could have made it for us.
Those in the armed services know exactly what they are doing when they take that oath and raise their right hands. And they do so willingly. To paraphrase Major General Patrick Brady, himself a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in Vietnam: “Most people will sacrifice, but there’s a bottom line to it. They want something out of it, whether by going without or through their hard work. That’s not true for a soldier. There is potentially no bottom line for sacrifice. Being in the military only increases the potential for their losing everything.” And for their families.
My hope is that more and more Americans will see Memorial Day as more than just a holiday, capping off a fun weekend. We should obviously always be thankful, not just on a day in late May. But this marks a time when we should not think about ourselves, our problems, and our aspirations. We should think about the ultimate gift that’s been given for all of us, and our children’s children.
And so once again, let us acknowledge them, their sacrifice, and their families.
And the promise of what might have been.