This is the time we not only honor those who have served, and sacrificed. We also think about Memorial Days past.
The first Memorial Day I can remember was commemorated in our Long Island town with a long parade featuring cadets from the nearby U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. (Many people are unaware that we have a Merchant Marine Academy. It is our fifth service academy, joining West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. The husband of Gabrielle Giffords, retired Navy Captain Mark Kelly, is a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy.)
The parade was a major annual event, and came to an end at the local war memorial. We knew the day was special. This was before Memorial Day became “Memorial Day weekend,” and turned into another day for sales.
One reason it was special is that we knew the families of the names on the memorial. We knew soldiers. We knew veterans who were still in their twenties. Right across the street from me lived a guy who’d been a tail gunner on a B-17. Next door to him lived a veteran who’d been seriously wounded by a mortar shell in World War II. Down the block lived an Army reservist called up for service in Korea. His wife let me use his darkroom while he was away. I’d go to the parade with a kid whose father had been a Navy dentist aboard an escort carrier in the Pacific campaign.
All of us knew we had a military obligation ahead. Defending the country was part of our lives. There was nothing unusual about it. Many of us had experienced battle casualties in the family.
That was then, this is now. Today, most Americans have never met a soldier. In many communities, it is rare to see anyone in uniform. Voluntarily serving in the military is considered by much of the “sophisticated” class an odd thing to do. Oh yes, many young people have grandparents who are veterans, most of them from Vietnam, a war Americans have been taught by the chattering classes either to forget or despise. World War II and Korea vets are dying out rapidly. The very youngest World War II veteran, someone who would have been in the Navy at 17 in the last months of the war, would be 85 today. The youngest Korea vet is 77.
The president tells us that America has been at war since September 11, 2001. He is wrong. The armed forces have been at war. The country hasn’t been bothered much at all, except for extra inspections at airports. The president tell us we’re war-weary. Really? Between December of 1944 and January of 1945, in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe, this nation lost 20,000 men. That’s what produces war weariness.
So things are different today. Americans still mark Memorial Day, but something has been lost – the sense that we are all participants in national defense. We have to hope that there is still a core population within our country that reveres our traditional values, and that will respond immediately if the nation is in danger.
If we don’t have that core, we are gone.
FROM URGENT AGENDA (WWW.URGENTAGENDA.COM)
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