Some truly magnificent fog this morning. All was quiet up on the Bluff – just birdsong and one train running the tracks down below, plus a subdued hum from the old NSP plant. As a holiday Monday at five-thirty AM, it’s not so surprising there was no real traffic on the roads, and little activity anywhere else the eye could see.
I had planned not to say anything about the day and its true meaning… but that’s what’s been on my mind. I offer these thoughts not so much as a soap box, but because I wonder how many people truly misunderstand what this day is for.
There is a long history of military service on both sides of my family. We’ve been fortunate; despite the family lines of uncles and grandfathers (and more recently, cousins, sister, brothers) that have served, extending back to when the various elements that went into creating me and my sibs first came to the United States, very few have paid for the honor of that service with their lives. (Though many were wounded in combat – the worst injuries being a grand-uncle getting shot through the neck, and another with a shoulder shattered to bits.)
And what people seem to forget, with their anti-war memes and anti-military posts and shares of similar memes and posts, is that Memorial Day is not about protesting the growing corruption in government. Nor is it about justification – for war or the reasons this country went to war. It even has nothing to do with the reasons these young men (and more recently, women) enlisted, whether it be from a desire to serve or a need to find some direction or a belief that we as a country were in the right or nationalism or sheer indoctrination from a young age or even a forced choice by the draft.
None of that matters.
Memorial Day, ultimately, is about the price that is required of conviction. I am not a veteran. I have not seen combat with my own eyes; I have not heard the sounds of war with my own ears – the staccato beat of weapons’ fire or the thunder of ordnance, the screams of the wounded, the moans of the dying. My entire life, I have been sheltered and safe. And so I do not yet know what each and every fallen member of every military in history knows: What their purpose was.
Perhaps it was to protect the interests of the country that shelters their family. Perhaps something more personal; an unshakable belief in the ideals they and their army were there to support. Maybe it was even more basic; survival. Maybe a bit more broad; defending a principle. But this I know: When the time came to pay their price, they knew what they were paying for.
We honor the sacrifice of their life’s blood because we are aware, deep within our being, that we will all be asked to do the same. Perhaps their purpose was more visible, their endings more dramatic; but it was the end we all go to, sooner or later, and our lives are worthwhile in the meantime if we have found our own purpose, just as our fallen soldiers did.
The irony of living is that it is ultimately fatal, no matter how rich or how barren a life it was. And so when I find myself in the presence of a memorial – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Vietnam Wall, the Field of Honor in Red Wing – I go silent. Listening. Reaching out with mind and heart to the memory of those who found their way. Feeling like an intruder because I haven’t yet found mine.
For those of my family who did fall, and for those friends and platoonmates who fell beside them, I honor their service. I honor their courage. I honor their convictions. I honor their purpose, though I’ll never know what it was. I honor the blood we share, and feel proud that some of theirs runs through my veins. And whatever your personal beliefs about the military, the government, our country’s role on the larger stage of the world, I hope you do as well.
Because that is what Memorial Day is for.