Decoration Day, it used to be called; as ladies organizations and schoolchildren went out to the graves of fallen soldiers during the Civil War. A long-standing tradition has been preserved and even codified now into a Federal holiday.
Memorial Day is usually celebrated on the last Monday in May when friends and family gather at a cemetery where their loved ones are buried to remember them with love and reverence. At National Cemeteries throughout the country there will be remembrances of those who fought and died for freedom when families and friends go to pay their respects. My mind is filled with memories past when we visited the various cemeteries where our loved ones were buried. We placed flowers on the graves and remembered the ones who were buried there.
It is sometimes difficult to wrap our minds around a day like Memorial Day. Although we have been fighting a war against terror and the men and women in the armed forces are being constantly held up for us to show appreciation toward, there is still something distant about what it means. We have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives into neat little partitions that allow us to arrange our days and lives into distinctly different blocks of activities. We create separate emotions, feelings and values for each of the activity blocks. Sunday morning is "church" time; the activity is to "go to church." Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. is "work" time; the activity is stuffed with "doing our job." We behave in the "expected" ways that are dictated from the "activity block" in which we are engaged at the time.
Memorial Day is sometimes relegated by some to be an activity locked in our activity block labeled "Memorial Day." When the time comes we take it down from our shelf of daily activities, take out the activity, dust it off since it has been a year, and go through the expected motions so we can conveniently repack that activity block at the end of the day. Expending the least amount of effort we can, and getting it over with as quickly as possible, we move on to our next activity block forgetting the substance of the act in favor of the form.
Memorial Day should be different. Rather than unpacking the activity to glibly move through it without thought, we might rather make a much richer experience by really examining the circumstances and cost that surrounded the life of that man or woman who paid the ultimate price to give us the opportunity to create those activity blocks in the first place.
Those men who were caught in a cross-fire between sworn enemies who were dropping mortar shells on their position creating a fire storm of molten rock and phosphorus rain dropping death and terror on their heads continued moving forward to establish a barrier against evil.
Those medics, nurses and doctors close to the 38th Parallel continued their duties at the operating tables trying to save the lives of soldiers wounded in battles gave their own lives in America's struggle against communism.
Those young men who laid in the forest as the rain trickled down their helmets trying to remain quiet as enemy "regulars" marched down the trail beside their foliage cover caught sight that culminated in a battle eventually won by the Americans, but not without heavy causalities.
Those men and women who were weighted down with battle gear, in desert heat reaching 110 degrees in the shade as they rode in their vehicle across the sandy roads watched as eighty yards in front another vehicle containing their friends suddenly explodes and shoots straight up in the air in a ball of flame. With roads filled with IEDs waiting to capture the unsuspecting vehicle, they each continue on fulfilling their duty and chipping away at the forces of evil headed by a dictator who has vowed to take away the freedom from Americans whom he calls the "Great Satan."
What were those men and women thinking at those very moments? Did they see the faces of their wives, kids, parents? Did they see their high school friends they had just parted company with only a few short months prior to their current experience. Were they terrified, with hearts beating knowing that each breath might be their last? Did some experience the loss of their closest comrade in arms taking their last breath just inches away? The one thing each one had in common: They were each giving their all for those back in the States for them to be able to experience the freedom of never experiencing what they were facing at that moment.
Freedom. Such a word; freedom. It seems like Memorial Day and Freedom might be the same word. Without Memorial Day, and the ones behind that Day, there would likely be no freedom. We should never be so routine with our actions as to forget the real meaning of Memorial Day and the freedom that has been given to us by those who paid the price with their lives.Jim Killebrew