The Importance of Memorial Day

Here in Boston right now we’ve got an absolutely gorgeous day warming outside. Sun’s bright. There’s a nice dry heat with no humidity out there and it feels like an early summer. Without a cloud in the sky, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the midst of paradise. All over our country right now, people are excited about leaving work early, maybe cranking the grill and enjoying the unofficial start of summer.

And I’m right there with them. I love a nice long weekend. I love the idea of sleeping in and catching up with friends and family. Fifteen years ago, I got married on Memorial Day weekend and every year I get to be with my wife is time spent in no better fashion.

But I also love Memorial Day for what it is truly about: thanking those brave warriors who have laid down their lives in service of our country.

We’re not unique in observing a holiday like this; most countries have a day set aside to honor those who have paid the ultimate price. But far too often, the importance of Memorial Day is overshadowed by car sales, shopping, and early release from work. Too few remember who this holiday is really for. Too few understand the sacrifice. Too few know what it is like to walk in the boots of those who have braved far greater strife in seconds than most will ever encounter in an entire lifetime.

And too many mock the holiday itself with idle commentary and insipid attempts at humor. Usually this comes from cowards who don’t possess even a fraction of the courage it takes to serve or the intelligence to understand what it means to face death.

Whether you support the wars being waged right now is irrelevant. Whether you voted for Obama or McCain is irrelevant. Whatever party you belong to is irrelevant. What is most important about Memorial Day is understanding that without the sacrifice of so many brave men and women in uniform, we would not have the nation we have today. Memorial Day is a time to pause – no matter how momentary – and give thanks to those souls who have known the roar of explosions, the sound of gunfire, the pounding of heart and lungs, the urge to throw up, urinate and defecate simultaneously, the sting of sweat, and the smells of blood and too many far less pleasant things, and the rush of tunnel vision, shouting, screaming, crying, praying – who have kept going, kept advancing, kept fighting because that’s what they were: soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen – dedicated to a country they loved, duty-bound to defend and fight for her ideals, and honor-bound to protect those who served beside them.

When you enjoy the weekend, no matter how you choose to celebrate, take a little time away from the fun and festivities and remember those who have fallen, those who are no longer with us, those whose families feel the pain of their absence – and say thank you. The flags that wave in the breeze or stand in silent homage at cemeteries are there to remind us of the citizens who have answered the call, endured much, and fallen in distant lands and closer backyards. Without their sacrifice, our nation would be a far different land. With their sacrifice, we all enjoy more than most. And it’s a place we call home-flawed yes, but a wonder still-even for the cowards who may never understand the true significance of such a day.

In honor of those who have gone before, in remembrance of those who have braved the crucible of combat…Happy Memorial Day.

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  • Deanna Massengale May 22, 2009  

    Thank you Jon, for a beautiful salute to our military. My husband retired after 20 years in the Army and our 23 year old son is following in his footsteps. Josh (our son) has already seen combat in Iraq in 2006 and just returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan and he has only been in the Army for three years! As you can tell, military is strong just in these two generations. We won’t even discuss how the tradition of serving in the Armed Forces in our family goes all the way back to Revolutionary times! Again, thak you for your tribute.

  • MuchAdoAboutSomething May 22, 2009  

    Well said my friend!

  • brendamantz May 22, 2009  

    Nice reminder, Jon. When I was out kayaking earlier there were lots of flags flying from boats and in people’s yards. It made me feel proud and safe. So did your post.

  • jonfmerz May 22, 2009  

    Thanks for chiming in, Deanna, and thank you to your family for their service! Stay safe!

  • MerleChloe May 22, 2009  

    So eloquently stated…thank you for the wonderful tribute. My hubby served in Operation Desert Storm with the USMC and retires in two months from the Air National Guard. Many service men and women never lived to completed their tours or have the good fortune to retire from their military service. We shall not forget them nor their families for the unimaginable sacrifices that they have made and continue to make. They are why we are the “Land of the Free and the home of the brave”

  • jonfmerz May 22, 2009  

    Thanks Merle, glad you enjoyed it. All too often we take things for granted and it’s easy to do when the sun is shining outside. But as someone who served and has lost friends since 9-11, I always try to remember what the day is for. Have a great weekend!

  • Macgyver May 23, 2009  

    Thanks for saving our ass in world war 2. We’ll return the favour in world war 3.

  • mcafeeland May 27, 2009  

    Hear, Hear. Very well said, Jon.

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