Today’s somewhat belated (for the reasons outlined in the preceding post) Memorial Day essay is, with only a few minor changes, a reprint of an earlier post that I first published on "Map and Counters" in 2009. At the time I wrote that first essay, I had only recently experienced something of a personal epiphany: one that had imbued me with a powerful urge to honor those who, for one reason or another, are all too often passed over by their countrymen in favor of well-known military leaders and famous heroes. Nothing that has happened since that first post has done anything to change my mind. On the contrary, as time has gone by, I have become increasingly convinced that Memorial Day shouldn’t mainly be about celebrating those who are or were famous, whether gallant heroes or successful generals — their memories will almost always be preserved somewhere, if only in a fading copy of an old history book; instead, I believe that what this day should really be about is honoring the countless ordinary men and women who — although largely uncommemorated except by a cemetary headstone — have served in our armed forces over the centuries and who, when duty required it, gave up the most precious thing that they possessed: their lives. Thus, like last year and the year before, this Memorial Day essay honors two U.S. Marines who fell as a result of enemy action a long time ago in Vietnam; just as importantly, however, it is also a salute to all of those who, through the ages, have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country: from the first violent birth pangs of the new American Republic, to the faraway battlefields of the present day. May their sacrifices never be forgotten.
|Vietnam War Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C.|
In Memory of Marine LCpl. Clement Johnston, Jr., killed in action 4/28/66 in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of South Vietnam
When we honor the memory of those who have, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, already “given the last full measure of their devotion,” let us also take a moment to think about all those men and women who, like my young Marine nephew, presently serve as a bulwark against the medieval fanatics that — in spite of the fact that their original leaders are now mainly dead or in captivity — still plot attacks against the American homeland from half a world away.
A Few Additional Thoughts on This, the First “Summer” Holiday of the Year
Today is “Memorial” Day. It is supposed to be a day of remembrance. And I like to think that there was a time, not that long ago, when most ordinary Americans understood and honored this day and its original purpose. Now, for many, if not the majority of my fellow citizens, I fear that Memorial Day has become little more than an excuse for a three-day holiday weekend, or a backyard barbeque, or even for a “blow-out” electronics sale. I hate to admit it, but I understand how this change could happen: memories are tricky things, and they fade far too quickly. I was unexpectedly reminded of this sad truth, myself, only a few years ago.
During the first week of April a little over two years ago, my wife talked me into visiting the touring reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial: The Wall. She had already visited the real monument in Arlington, but she knew that — despite the fact that I had served two and a half years in Vietnam — I had not; so she thought that it might be nice for us to finally visit the touring “Wall” display together. I agreed to make the trip, but under protest: I have to admit that I have always had mixed feelings about “war” memorials. Unlike a military cemetery or a former battlefield — I still get a lump in my throat when I see pictures of Arlington or one of the American Cemeteries at Normandy or Lorraine, in France — most of these types of monuments have always struck me as being more like “guilty” afterthoughts than anything else. Too often the statues or marble structures that are erected, usually long after the events that they commemorate, actually seem to say more about their well-intentioned builders than they do about those being memorialized. Nonetheless, valuing my wife’s good opinion, I finally agreed to make the trip; so, on a sunny, windy Saturday morning in 2009, my wife and I drove all the way out to Buckeye, Arizona, to pay a visit to the touring facsimile of the “Wall.”
|U.S. WWII Cemetery, Normandy, France.|
|Arlington National Cemetery|
|U.S. WWII Cemetery, Lorraine, Normandy, France.|
|Gettysburg National Cemetery, Pennsylvania|
May you, my readers, and those you care about, all have an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day Holiday. And may those who wear our country’s uniform and who daily go into harm’s way, in dangerous, far-off places, also have a safe Memorial Day!