My grandfather served in World War II, being part of a unit that landed on Omaha Beach and suffered very heavy losses. His two brothers also fought, serving in the South Pacific and fighting in the Battle of Guadalcanal. However, this holiday is not about them; they all survived the war. Memorial Day is about those who give the ultimate sacrifice –their life– in the service of their country. It is about the men who served as the namesake for my father and, by extension, my nephew. My grandfather had multiple friends in the service named James, all of whom died when their company scaled the gigantic cliffs at the end of the Normandy beachhead.
The holiday is also about more than those who died on the battlefield. Those who return home with untreated ailments that prove ultimately fatal should be memorialized as well, just as vigorously. These include physical ailments, such as lymphoma from exposure to Agent Orange, and mental ailments, such as
post traumatic stress order shell shock from traumatic experiences that often leads to suicide. The rate of suicide among recent veterans has jumped 44% in recent years alone, being one of the biggest unaddressed issues facing today’s veterans.
This is only compounded by the recent scandal at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Forget about assigning winners and losers, or ascribing blame. How about, just today, our top priority be to lessen the suffering of those who have put everything on the line for the good of their countrymen. Veterans should transcend the politics behind wars; they are the brave young men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives for country. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a supporter of the Iraq War in any way, shape or form, but believe that the veterans created by that conflict should be taken care of as one of our biggest national priorities. Those who lost their lives in the conflict should be revered as strongly as any other serviceman.
I, for one, have always been a fan of Memorial Days taking place the day before an Election Day. It occurred in 2012 as well. On Memorial Day we honor those who died in preservation of the rights we take for granted. The right to free speech, to a free press (ergo, to publish this blog), to practice one’s religion in peace and to even own a firearm are some of those quintessential protections. But arguably the most important is the right to elect our own representatives. When my grandfather’s friends lost their lives, they did so to protect a continent from Adolf Hitler’s autocratic regime. When a young man or woman in Afghanistan dies in service, they do so to protect that country from the Taliban and its fascist tendencies.
The best way to honor all those who have lost their lives in service is not to attend a memorial service today, though that would surely be nice. It is to exercise the rights they died seeking to defend. Pray in public, criticize the government, send in a Letter to the Editor for your local newspaper on a subject near and dear to your heart. Most importantly, vote tomorrow if you have not already done so!
For 90%+ of the general population, voting is a wonderfully easy endeavor. Granted, casting your ballot tomorrow is not as easy as it has been the previous week in early voting locations, because you must do it in your precinct as opposed to throughout the county. If you work late, you may have to wake up a little earlier. If you work early, you may have to vote on your lunch break. I guarantee you that you will not have to stand in line. Still, it might not be completely effortless.
Perhaps Memorial Day should require a little effort, though. All gave some, some gave all. You just have to give a little.