Another Memorial Day–2014

Graves at Arlington National Cemetery decorated for a Memorial Day
Arlington National Cemetery













The three-day weekend, observed all across America, competing with the observance of the deaths of the countless soldiers who fought and died in wars beginning with the American Civil War. Most people don’t know that it dates back that far. That war, of course, claimed the lives of over 600,000. War is an ugly thing, resulting in the death or maiming of young men (and now women) who might otherwise live out productive lives. It corrupts their morals, soils their souls with acts of savagery. We honor the dead not for the ruination it brought to their lives but for the service they rendered, ostensibly in the defense of a noble cause. In the history of the wars Americans have fought in, there have been those with an arguably just cause–the American Revolution, the first and second world wars. Then there have been those whose essential purpose or rationale seems to have a more cloudy, politically controversial result. Those predominate in the conflicts from Vietnam on, perhaps from Korea as well. 

There are those who take Memorial Day, like any other Federally-prescribed three-day holiday observances as an opportunity to travel, have a cookout or picnic–or simply to shop. Others adhere to observing the speeches, services and other recognition of those who died. Regardless of whether those wars were popular or not, regarded as correct or not, the deaths were real and the sacrifices are real. It is that which we honor. I made it back from Vietnam. Others didn’t. I marched and protested that war after exiting the service. But I honor those who died. As Philip Caputo says in his remarkable book, in a scene in the mess hall where the chaplain says to Marine 2nd Lieutenant Caputo,

Twelve wrecked homes. The chaplain’s words echoed. That’s twelve wrecked homes. The doctor and I think in terms of human suffering, not statistics.”

The chaplain was questioning Caputo, expressing concern whether the deaths of 12 Marines were meaningful, for a just cause. Despite being rankled by the chaplain, it raised doubts in Caputo’s mind. Nonetheless, it is clear enough that Caputo, as do I, value their lives and their sacrifice. I hope you will too, on this coming Monday.