For better and worse, each death shaped our nation. Each death contributed to what we are today.
My own war experience in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 was far different from my father’s. I wasn’t wounded. Fortunately, none of the men in my company were killed in action during our tour. But now I know my father’s melancholy on Memorial Day. I feel it, and it’s the reason I found myself on the verge of lashing out last week when a salesman on the street thrust a flier into my hands titled “Memorial Day Blow-out Sale.”
I regained composure and thought about the question I had asked myself as a child: Were they wrong to celebrate?
Few Americans would disagree with the sanctity of Memorial Day. Yet the holiday has become a shopping spree, a party. Retail sales surge as stores release new summer offerings. The holiday weekend is among the top 10 shopping periods each year. Meanwhile, the local parade in my home town is more sparsely attended, and fewer people appear to travel to cemeteries to pay respects to the war dead.
These trends are likely to continue now that the levels of violence have dropped in Iraq and Afghanistan, and American service members appear less frequently in the media. They will continue unless we are more deliberate with our time. After all, our values are shaped by where and how we spend our time.
Memorial Day weekend doesn’t need to be a somber event for all. Naturally, it will be different for those families whose lives have been scarred by combat. But you don’t need to have experienced war to pay your respects.
So this Memorial Day weekend consider taking a half-hour to honor our war dead. Have a conversation with your children or your parents. Pause. Reflect. If you can make more time, visit a cemetery or take a child to a local parade, then talk to them about service. If you can’t travel, watch a Memorial Day concert or parade. Whatever it is, do something deliberate and out of your way.
Is it wrong to celebrate?
No, it’s not wrong. But it will be a far more meaningful celebration if it starts with recognizing why we have the opportunity to celebrate.
I didn’t start editing that video until late Sunday, deliberating over choice of music. I don’t know how well the Alison Krauss song fits (maybe not at all) but there’s something spiritually soothing in its sound. The photos are somewhat randomly chosen from my files (exceptions being the ones of Frank Buckles and personal photos provided by Shannon Galloway, Justine McDermott, and Sheba Khan- mother to Kareem Khan).
I tried to credit all the photos, but that was probably a messy effort.
Also had to upload this: