Today is Memorial Day in the United States. For those readers who aren’t in or from the US, I realize you may also honor the memory of those lost in military service, some today, some on other days.
According to Wikipedia, “Decoration Day“, or in modern times, “Memorial Day” has controversial origins. Some say Memorial Day is an extension of the ancient practice of decorating warriors’ graves with flowers and stones. Others say the holiday has its origins in various events surrounding the American Civil War.
Growing up in Cushing, Maine, what I knew about Memorial Day was that it marked the unofficial start of summer. We celebrated Memorial Day with family and friends, outings, gatherings, family reunions and the like. Of course, we learned in school what the real meaning of Memorial Day was, but I can honestly say the grave meaning of Memorial Day didn’t sink in for me until I was an adult. Today, I remember the dead, and also remember many trips to Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall, and other memorials on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Like visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York, so many years later, those visits helped make our loss and their sacrifice so much more real for me.
Memorial Day is an opportunity to honour (for my Canadian friends) those lost in military service. All wars, all conflicts, all theaters. All the lost are remembered on this solemn day for their selfless service and for paying the ultimate sacrifice. Doesn’t matter to me if these honoured veterans were lost in battle or lost in training, maintenance. The politics of then or now don’t matter to me, they signed up (or were signed up) for service most of us couldn’t or wouldn’t do. They are heroes to me, plain and simple.
“Celebrating” Memorial Day is a controversial topic. I recently read a well articulated article suggesting Memorial Day has become all about having a good time and not about honoring our war dead. The author posited that people should be sad on Memorial Day, not celebrating.
I respectfully disagree. Just like I’m sad when I lose a friend or a loved one and both mourn and celebrate their life, I think the same should be true for Memorial Day. It is for me. I always contemplate what my life – my family’s life – would be like if it weren’t for those who fell before us defending our morals, values, and our democracy. In short, we’d never have the lives we have now in the US if it weren’t for these now-silent warriors. When we gather, we can reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day, and honor our dead.
Captain Tauno Brooks was the navigator of a B-26C Invader bomber with the 13th Bomber Squadron, 3rd Bomber Wing. On August 7, 1952, while on a night intruder mission, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed. He was listed as Missing in Action and was presumed dead on December 31, 1953.
I’m sad thinking about folks like Captain Tauno Brooks who died serving his country in the Korean War. Captain Brooks is missing in action and presumed dead; he was a native son of Maine and uncle of a dear friend from childhood. I also take the opportunity to celebrate our lost military members’ lives (did you know they’re not all called “soldiers”?). And why not? They lived, loved, learned, served, and yes, they died so we can have the lives we so enjoy. Splitting remembrance with reverent celebration is a good thing.
So, whether you’re sad, happy or both today (I am), whether you spend the day in quiet contemplation or celebrate with your family please take a moment in silence to respect these fallen heroes and their families and friends.
If you’re looking for local Memorial Day observances, here’s a resource. If you choose to use one of these ceremonies or celebrations to honor the memory of our war dead, good for you; I will. Please just take a moment to reflect, or observe a moment of silence; that’s cool too.