Editor’s Note: The following is Sun Staff Writer Matthew White’s piece on Memorial Day, in light of the upcoming holiday.
If you are new to America and you go by what you see and hear on TV and radio, you might be convinced that Memorial Day is the one weekend this year to “Enjoy huge savings on electronics and home furnishings!”
We almost never hear the words “Memorial Day” anymore unless they're followed by the word "Sale" or “weekend.”
Many folks I know perpetually complain that we as a society have lost the true meaning of Christmas or Easter. Honoring fallen soldiers doesn't require us to be Christian, Jewish or Muslim or even patriotic for that matter; it comes with but one requisite. Being an American.
Not Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, pro-war, anti-war. None of the above. Just American.
We should all come together on this day … not the whole weekend … just one Monday per year, and remember what the holiday truly represents and how we’re supposed to observe it.
A glance back in history will show us that when America was struggling to recover from the Civil War, nearly every family in this country felt the direct loss. Stop for a moment and imagine a country one quarter the size it is today... and then imagine nearly 700 thousand casualties.
I'll bet they didn't celebrate with hot dogs, three day weekends, a sale on video games and cheap fireworks.
Let's take a cue from 1866 – when Henry Welles, the Waterloo pharmacist who suggested to Seneca County Clerk John Murray that a special day should be set aside to honor the patriotic dead of the Civil War.
Murray obliged, and the townspeople adopted the idea with enthusiasm. Bouquets, wreaths and floral crosses were made and set at each veteran's grave. Evergreen boughs dominated entryways and black mourning ribbons adorned tree trunks and the arms of men; Flags were set at half mast.
General Murray would lead a solemn procession to the three local cemeteries. This day, set aside to honor the fallen, became an annual tradition in Waterloo, and eventually the nation.
Monday should not be the day to debate the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. To me, it's offensive. It's offensive to say our soldiers died in a meaningless war. It's equally offensive to defend the cause. There is a time and place for everything, and this hallowed day is not the time. We have 364 other days for that.
Memorial Day to me isn't about war or all the feelings that go along with it. It's about individuals who chose to serve in the United States Military; they chose to follow orders and they made the ultimate sacrifice – and the debt of gratitude the common man owes them for the privilege to reap the benefits of their sacrifice with every free breath that we take.
There is a veterans' cemetery just a few miles down the road in the little town of Oxford where I live. You'll find many soldiers buried there who returned from the war and lived full, productive lives. But in other Veteran's cemeteries, you'll no doubt find a collection of headstones – each telling the story of a truncated life. Each one of these markers represents the crushed dreams of a wife, a parent, brother, children... entire families.
I hope we can all remember this on Monday; in between hanging out with family and friends, planting the garden, firing up the grill. I truly hope that Monday, if even for a fleeting moment, we can all pause and realize that this is not just a day off from work or school. Our fallen heroes chose to put their lives on the line for many reasons, but I'm fairly certain that giving us a day-off is not one of them.
Sometimes, I'll lament about my decision to not serve my country as a member of the armed forces like my grandfather and uncles. As much as I whine and complain about how imperfect America is, I wish that I had given a couple years of my life to demonstrate to others – especially myself – that what we have here is more than worth defending.
And to all those who paid the price, you will forever have my unwavering respect and admiration.