The proper greeting for yesterday was “Happy Memorial Day.” Over the preceding days I said it a few times to neighbors and others, and then stopped. Surely, I want to honor those who died wearing our nation’s uniform. But on this Memorial Day, the word “happy” didn’t quite fit. I remember well growing up in Saratoga Springs, a small town in Upstate New York, when the community would celebrate Memorial Day. Flags would hang from street lights and on people’s front porches. Observances were held in Congress Park. The local newspaper ran large front page stories honoring Saratoga’s fallen. Year-round I can remember Jack Brundidge, my next-door-neighbor – and a World War II vet – regularly going off to the local VFW; and having fellow vets over to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in his backyard.
Still, when I think of Memorial Day this year I cannot get out of my own mind the perils of war. There are the just graduated West Point cadets who are now waiting to be shipped overseas. Vice President Biden recently spoke before a group of wounded vets about the hardships they will endure in the coming years as they try to put their lives back together again. In the May 28th Newsweek edition, there’s a story entitled, “We Pretend The Vets Don’t Even Exist” – about veterans committing suicide at alarming rates.
Some war conflicts are avoidable; others envelope us, even before we know it at times. We live in a rough world. Still, I will not use this space today to argue over the worthiness of certain wars, or war itself. At issue for me is how we treat those who bear the burden of our protection; this is the question over which we do have control.
I recognize all the efforts being undertaken to care for our soldiers, veterans and their families; such projects and initiatives – indeed, the welcome celebrations in airports – all have a place. We should laud many of those efforts. But more is needed. It starts with a real national commitment – within the country, and not just within government – to serve those who have served us. No matter our view on war, we owe this to our fellow Americans. This commitment must then be followed by more concerted efforts that ignite a sense of compassion and action throughout the country.
We must turn attention to our soldiers and fallen veterans in a new way. This is not merely about programs, but about what we choose to keep in our line of sight; and what we do with our individual and collective talents and resources; what we care about. This is the basic human sentiment I hold.
Please, tell me your thoughts. Let’s share them together.