Memorial Day: The Final Sacrifice

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance when a grateful nation offers thanks. We began observing Memorial Day in 1868 (three years after the end of the Civil War) when our country honored military personnel who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country. We celebrate this holiday (previously called Decoration Day) each year on the last Monday of May.

Its significance and the symbolism attached to it remain unchanged even as we have added a more benign association. Many link it to the unofficial launch of summer, and for students, the approaching end of the school year.

We celebrate and honor our fallen military heroes by watching parades, participating in public memorial ceremonies and religious services, and displaying of flags and bunting, while admiring the medals that former or current service members wear as a mark of respect and grateful remembrance. 

Yet, this year’s celebratory events will be different because of the coronavirus. As I write this, it is difficult to gauge precisely how we will or should celebrate Memorial Day publicly. Our lockdown rules are changing gradually. I would recommend visiting https://covid19.nj.gov for the latest information.

We will need common sense for any public gatherings. Even gradual re-openings proceed, the coronavirus has not disappeared. Acknowledging that, we are aware that any public gatherings to honor those fallen heroes have been frequently attended by veterans, many of whom served in previous wars, representing every branch of service. 

I raise this issue because our cherished veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam are often present at these celebratory functions. These veterans have aged, and we have seen demonstrated evidence that they are now in or approaching the age bracket at which the coronavirus has been particularly deadly.  How one decides to honor these fallen heroes is a personal choice. If a veteran or grateful citizen decides to show respect in a public setting, I only ask for common sense and that we follow our existing guidelines during this difficult time.

Allow me this modest suggestion: however you celebrate this Memorial Day, what matters is thinking about these men and women, and doing so in a manner of honor and respect.  

A friend of mine received a video recently from a friend that shows scenes from his days in Vietnam. This friend of a friend had a movie camera that captured footage of our airplanes taking off from a Vietnamese airstrip. My friend said thanks for the video and added: “Thanks for your service.”

I couldn’t agree more with this expression. But whether we deliver it with our lips as a private prayer or in our thoughts, I might change the sentiment slightly to: “Thank you for your sacrifice.”

Let us remember what that sacrifice means to us. Those who died defending our freedoms allow me to write this blog, they allow you to visit with friends and family on every holiday, and they allow all of us to meet the daily challenges we all face with confidence and determination, witnessed by our response to the coronavirus.

Precisely how we honor our fallen heroes this year might be less critical than acknowledging — in our own way — that their service and that their deaths were not in vain. 

Said simply, our thoughts and prayers, regardless of how we express them, are our way of saying that we will always remember you for paying that ultimate sacrifice.


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