Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Thoughts

When I was young, and even up until not so many years ago, I didn't give much thought to what lie behind the meaning, or purpose, of Memorial Day (formerly known as Decoration Day).  All through school and throughout my paid-career years, the day was just another holiday, a time to get away from whatever stress was happening at the time.  While a child, our family didn't do anything special at home, it was just a day away from school.  As an adult, it was a day added to the weekend making for time to go camping, or have friends over for a good time and maybe a barbecue and marked the beginning of summer activities.

Over the last decade or so, however, I've come to realize just what this day signifies.  It's a day of cost.  Lives were lost.  Families left behind were changed forever, and not necessarily for the better.  It should be a solemn day, a reminder of these wonderful men and women who were too early lost to their earthly families.  These soldiers and their families had hopes, dreams, goals for the future.  They said goodbye to their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, children and all the other shirttail relatives and friends they had ever known.

Decoration Day was begun after the Civil War by the Grand Army of the Republic (Union) according to Wikipedia, as a day to remember those who were lost in that war.  They honored them by decorating their graves with flowers.  I didn't really know that until just last year, and while up north, went with my aunt and uncle and family members around to several cemeteries where family members are buried to place flowers on their graves.  I wasn't aware that my aunt and family followed that tradition.  In their remembrances though, it doesn't pertain to just those in the service, they make it for remembering all family that have gone before...but somehow, in my mind, and while that's a nice gesture, the deeper meaning and intent is lost.  That being, remembering those who died while fighting for either a cause they fully believed in or were compelled to fight because they were soldiers when a war broke out and it was their duty to do so.

A few from among my own ancestors, family and friends who I would like to honor today:

  • My great-great-grandfather, Richard Haas (real name) fought with the Union.  He was taken prisoner and died as a POW at Salisbury, NC.  He died from starvation, just weeks before the war ended.  He left behind in Michigan, a wife and three children, the youngest being not yet three years old.  His widow never remarried.  
  • My step-father's cousin was stationed in Pearl Harbor aboard the Utah, losing his life in the attack from Japan.  
  • In 1968 in Viet Nam, my second cousin (Gary), the only son among three children, lost his life in Long An Province.  At 15, it was the first funeral I'd attended.  I had only met him for the first time a year before at a family reunion.
  • The son of a friend I'd lost touch with for many years, gave his life in Iraq 11 years ago, leaving behind a young wife and two babies, in addition to his parents and family.  Though I didn't learn of this until a few years ago, I was heart-broken.  I knew this young man (Chris) as a 9-year old little boy with an infectious smile, dimples in his cheeks, who loved bacon. 
  • While not losing his life during his term of service, my mom's cousin Vern, lost his life a few years ago from the long-term effects of the agent orange he encountered during his tour in Viet Nam.
  • Some of my classmates in high school in the late 1960s, lost their brothers in Viet Nam, as so many did during that awful conflict. 
I recognize I am not alone with the losses of members of their family and friends, and perhaps many of my readers lost someone far more closely held to them, where the pain of that loss is an enduring reminder of the costs of war, than I.  Today, I pray for you as you remember again the heartaches of those losses.  

Let us all remember that today, Memorial Day, is a day of remembrance and honor to those who died in the service for their country.  And while we like to honor all service men and women, this holiday is separate and distinct from Veteran's Day when we honor those veteran's still living who do and who have served in the military.  God bless you all.

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