“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”— George S. Patton
When one talks about Memorial Day, it is important to know what it means and most importantly whom it is honoring. The thing to remember is, this day is reserved for the fallen warriors who died in defense of our country, not for the veterans who march in honor of their missing comrades.
Many of our well-meaning and patriotic neighbors in our little bucolic town thanked us for our service as we marched past in our annual parade where we trod through the center of the town and visited four different cemeteries to pay homage to our veterans.
But this day, Memorial Day isn’t about the men marching. That’s reserved for Veterans Day in November. This day is to remember and honor the nearly one million men and women who fell defending our country, our way of life, and the very freedoms we enjoy today.
It is often slightly uncomfortable when citizens thank you on Memorial Day because the day should be about our fallen comrades… thank them. But I understand where they’re coming from and there is definitely no malice involved.
But when it comes to the fallen warriors, there is the undercurrent of politics that has no place in Memorial Day.
Too often today, political beliefs and leanings skew perceptions about veterans and whether a war or conflict is “just” or not. Military members don’t get to pick and choose which conflict they’ll support. They must put their trust in their own leaders to never put them in harm’s way for a needless cause.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t have distinct feelings about an area of the world or the war that they’re taking part in. They do. They’re not mindless robots who go off to fight wherever the government tells them. But their sense of pride in their unit and the men and women to their left and right will get them thru.
The veterans we honor on Memorial Day were someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister, or mother. They answered the call of duty and served their country, in most cases far from home. Their sacrifice will not be in vain as long as we remember and honor them. And live our lives according to the ideals that our country prides itself on.
One of the fascinating things about living in the New England area is the history involved in the area. This was one of the first areas developed after our ancestors came over from Europe and our veterans in our little town stretch back to the Revolutionary War.
That’s why we always visit all the cemeteries, we have soldiers from the American Revolution, right up to the most recent wars our country has been involved in. The town lost quite a few of its soldiers during the Civil War and they have reserved a section of the town’s Central Cemetery. After the war, many of their comrades chose to be buried with them in the Grand Army of the Republic section. Our oldest cemetery, on the western side of town, holds perhaps the most famous Revolutionary War soldier that none of you had ever heard of.
Peter Willard was the first African-American soldier in U.S. history. Willard, a free black man, lived in our town and was part of the militia who fought the British at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The proverbial “shots heard ‘round the world.” He later enlisted in the Continental Army and saw the war thru to the end before settling back in the town until his death.
His portrait hung in our town hall until a fire destroyed the building and nearly all of its contents in 1971. When one speaks of trendsetters in today’s world, we think of sports or entertainment stars whose faces are plastered across social media. But Willard was a true trendsetter and set the stage for thousands of African-Americans that were to follow in our country’s military.
We’ve reached a crisis in our small town as the veterans from recent conflicts have chosen not to get involved in either the local Veteran’s Council, the VFW, or the American Legion. It’s understandable when troops leave the active service, they want a break and don’t want to be tied down to military-type commitments any longer.
However, the downside to our situation and many others is that the veterans that have taken up the slack through the years are aging. We still have several World War II and Korea-era veterans whose minds are still willing but whose bodies won’t allow them to march in the parades anymore. Many of the Vietnam veterans aren’t spring chickens either and health problems preclude many from marching any longer.
Our pre-COVID-19 visits to the local schools during Memorial and Veterans’ Day weeks are always open to all veterans. These visits are important for several reasons. One is that the young students from our schools have great respect for the call of duty, selflessness, and sense of patriotism from our veterans. They always ask great questions as they attempt to learn about the different conflicts and what motivated our troops. It is a great learning experience for them.
But vets from recent wars are staying away. While a few have been coming to the schools for the past three years, it isn’t enough. Last year we had only a handful of veterans ABLE to march in the parade. It might have been the last parade we held in our town on Memorial Day. That would be a shame. The parade isn’t for us… it is for the ones who never made it home to celebrate the holidays with their families.
I don’t walk in other people’s shoes so I can’t tell them what they should or shouldn’t be doing in terms of the Memorial Day activities or how they choose to celebrate. I personally believe that we owe it to the deceased veterans to live our lives the best we can and celebrate our lives as they would have, after paying homage to them.
This article was originally published in May 2020.