28 May Memorial Day in America
A story of one Memorial Day long ago
Today is Memorial Day in America. It is a three day weekend. It is a day for barbecues and play time and family and often unfortunately for forgetting what the day is intended to lead us to remember.
It isn’t intentional. We don’t mean harm by it. But today, we should all take at least a moment to remember Memorial Day as the day we go out to visit the graves of our military members who died in service of our country. Not to honor war or American exceptionalism or military might, but simply to honor the sacrifice.
Unfortunately, Memorial Day also seems to be a day that well-meaning American citizens confuse with just about every other national holiday when we fly Old Glory in our front yards.
Nor Law, Nor Duty Bade Me Fight
Memorial Day is not July 4th, Independence Day. That is the day we use to commemorate and celebrate the courage of our founding fathers who risked their own lives and limbs to be declared treasonists in pursuit of a better way of governing ourselves.
Memorial Day is not Veterans Day. That day, November 11th, was once known as Armistice Day, the final day of the final explosive round of The Great War. The War To End All Wars. World War One. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and the guns of August fell silent.
Memorial Day is not Flag Day, Presidents Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Labor Day or Arbor Day.
Memorial Day is the day we recognize the sacrifice asked of the people in our armed forces when we chose to go to war. It is the day we remember those who died under our country’s flag for whatever reason we asked of them. Whether that reason was… right or wrong, righteous or un, we all need to understand these too-young men and women were asked and ordered to do things humans should not have to ask of other humans. But we do.
The Last Full Measure
At the dedication of a battlefield cemetery in Italy in 1945, a man who knew more about this holiday than perhaps anyone deserves to, made a speech in front of a group of dignitaries.
Instead of addressing the crowd, General Lucien Truscott turned his back on the VIPs to face some 20,000 American graves and address his fallen soldiers directly. He proceeded to ask their forgiveness for what he ordered them to do. There was no recording of the event. No film or video documentation. American cartoonist, Bill Mauldin, was the only one on hand that day who managed to jot down the general’s words.
“Before the stand were spectator benches, with a number of camp chairs down front for VIPs, including several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Mauldin wrote in “The Brass Ring,” his 1971 memoir. ”
“When Truscott spoke he turned away from the visitors and addressed himself to the corpses he had commanded here. It was the most moving gesture I ever saw. It came from a hard-boiled old man who was incapable of planned dramatics.”
It is something we don’t often think about in our day and age. It is something some of our current leaders would cast off as a show of weakness. When In fact, it is as much a show of strength as any human could ever show. To stand in front of your fallen and not only take responsibility for their being there, but to ask forgiveness for the orders he gave in those very extreme days.
There’s no clear story about when or where we began observing Memorial Day. It’s one of those observances that have just always seem to have been. But it was once called Decoration Day after the tradition of decorating the graves of the fallen with fresh flowers in the spring time. A season of renewal and remembrance.
I urge you all to read about General Truscott’s speech. To take a moment this long weekend before you sit back to enjoy your cheeseburger and beer and remember why we observe this day in the first place.
Enjoy the day off. Appreciate the summer temperatures. But remember the men and women who are the reason the day exists in the first place.
Start Telling Awesomely Effective Stories
Get our FREE 10 Tips to Great Writing Guide here!