Memorial Day: 2015 – A 5:30 pm Toast of Thanks

lincoln-memorial-8This day was originally established to honor those who died while wearing the uniform of our country. It slowly seems to be changing into a day to honor not only those but all who wore the uniform of our country and who are no longer among the living. A couple of years back all 55,000 graves at Otis Air Base had flags put on them for Memorial Day even though most buried there did not die in the service. I see the same is happening in other places in the country. That is supposed to be done on Veteran’s Day.

The way it is going it will soon become a day to remember all who have died whether they served in our nation’s armed forces or not. I went to my parents grave the other day and saw someone had put a flag on it. Neither of them served in uniform.

I suppose that will be the natural progress of a day in a country where those who wear the uniform are from around only 1% of our nation and I am not talking about the upper 1%. This means that unless the meaning of the day is changed 99% of the people will have nothing to remember.

How few of us are affected by military deaths since the draft was abolished in 1973? It is not that we have entered into an era of peace; for truth be told we are constantly warring. We have had more than a decade of war in two countries that has claimed the lives of some 6,861 Americans. How many of us know one of them?

I know one, Matthew Gallagher, named after me by his father, Peter. I know two from the Vietnam War, Johnny Jacobs from South Boston and Jimmy Carroll who was in Marine friend in Basic School with me. My uncle Jimmy Rogers died in WWII. I will pause for a moment to think of how their lives were cut short because they donned the American uniform. Later in the day at 5:30 (May 30 was the original date of the holiday) I’ll hoist a glass of beer to thank them. If you know anyone who died in uniform, or even if you do not but want to show your general thanks to all of them, join me at that time.

Now it seems we keep our service people well hidden in far away bases with strange-sounding names so that we are not reminded of the wars. In a sense Memorial Day is becoming an empty holiday. Fewer and fewer of us know anyone who has sacrificed his or her life while wearing the uniform.

For most people it is the start of summer and a day off; a time for a get together with family during a cook out. There is nothing wrong with that because what else can you do on a holiday when you have no connection with our war dead. The holiday was instituted after the Civil War when it meant something; it was made a national holiday after WWII and Vietnam when the sacrifice given by those in uniform really hit home.

In an article the other day a present day veteran explained why she hated Memorial Day. She ended her article saying: “I want to see people besides the small percentage of us who are veterans, know veterans, love veterans or lost veterans, understand what the day is about. It’s the one day on the American calendar meant to exemplify what it costs to be American and to be free… and we’ve turned it into a day off work, a tent sale and a keg of beer.”

 Sadly she’s not going to see that. She doesn’t understand that she is hurt by the frivolity of the day because she knows people who have died wearing the uniform. Most of the people do not. That makes all the difference in the world. Unless you can put a face to the memory it has little meaning.

11 thoughts on “Memorial Day: 2015 – A 5:30 pm Toast of Thanks

  1. My father is buried at the Cape Cod National Cemetery so I’m glad to hear they put a flag on his grave site, even though he didn’t die in a war. I don’t get there very often. My father is buried in Section 2, hallowed ground. Some of the gravestones in that fairly small section are marked “Grenada” and “Lebanon.”

    One veteran buried in Section 2 is Sgt Frederick B Douglass, a thirty year veteran of the Marine Corps who died in the 1983 Beirut, Lebanon barracks bombing. He grew up on the Cape too.

    I’m am honored that my father shares this little area with these heroes. He was a war veteran and made it a habit to remember those who had died in service to their country.

    He would frequently point out the marker designating the Savin Hill Avenue bridge the Edward Bonetti bridge across Route 93 by the Boston Globe building as we drove North on the Southeast Expressway. Eddie Bonetti grew up in Savin Hill and died in World War II.

    Worcester did a good, thorough job of naming intersections (Squares) after those who made the ultimate sacrifice. But that was when the people who served and sometimes died were your neighbors or co-workers. Newer immigrant groups, have to a great extent replaced older ones on the front lines. I hope we continue to find ways to demonstrate our gratitude and respect.

  2. Matt:

    Perhaps I should have prefaced my comments by mentioning that you did a good column, but I think you know from previous comments that your columns should be picked up by the mainstream media.

    That said, take a look at the May 23, Washington Post story by Adam Kilgore,”As military tributes become routine at ballparks, new doubts about sincerity.”

    Additionally, fund raising programs such as the “Wounded Warrior Project” and the “United Service Organization” have good intent, but how do they justify salaries up to $500,000 annually plus perks, while many soldiers and veterans apply for food stamps and war heroes are denied medical benefits?

        1. Dan:

          I agree but isn’t a lot of the blame to be put on the National Guard or Army or other services for forking over tax payer dollars to these teams. If they had half a brain they’d ask for the publicity for nothing and if the team refused raised a stink which would have forced the team into doing it. But bottom line, no team should have taken any money.

      1. Janet:

        Unfortunately, the main stream media hasn’t gotten around to reporting these obscene salaries in this fundraising con game at the expense of these innocent kids who place their lives and limbs on the line every day.

        Additionally, these war profiteers, a la’ Chicken Hawk Dick Cheney, stuffs his bank account with millions of Halliburton tax dollars, while veterans beg for the medical services and support they were promised, but denied. A disgrace.

  3. I agree with Janet that most of these wars were poorly chosen. But that’s on our political leaders. The soldiers who fought them deserve full honors and respect. I served two safe years in the Army as a lowly clerk, which made it easy for me to move on. But I know that’s not the case for many Vets, and I honor them this Memorial Day.

  4. The unfortunate part of the veterans story is that this government and the Veterans Administration (VA) is treating our war heroes like trash and the media remains almost silent.

    The retaliation against whistleblowers in the VA is both despicable and, unlawful.
    Viet Nam Era Veteran (RA)

  5. Your comments about Memorial Day are greatly appreciated. Few reflect on it’s intended purpose. Few, I’m afraid, care. The ultimate sacrifice made by our military is of no consequence today. Part of this is due, in my opinion, to the fact that our conflicts/wars since WWII aren’t clearly defined (or should I say truthfully presented). It’s not our freedom or liberty being defended — as much as the rhetoric of ‘the powers that be’ attempt to convince us that it is. /Read WHY WE LOST by Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger for a first-hand account/
    Memorial Day has become a reason to party. A day to celebrate the imminent arrival of summer! We bask in sun — with the security that our War Dead obtained for us (though a false security today, to be sure) and we give little thought to their sacrifice. “Happy Memorial Day!” There’s nothing solemn about it any more.
    Janet Uhlar (Mother of an active military officer)

    1. Janet:

      Thanks for the nice comment and the further information. I would add that another part is because we no longer have universal conscription where all are at risk of being called upon to serve the country. When we limit it to volunteers we only get people like your child who feel a commitment to America; most others seem to believe they are entitled to our freedoms and others should do the hard work while they play on. War is an abstraction to them; it is something that affects others.

      They do not have a clue about the perils of defending the country. We do owe thanks to people like your child who willingly serves. I know it is hard on all parents to see their children join the military knowing the uncertainty that awaits them. That is why like you they recognize the importance of this day and understand the trauma suffered by those who lost one of their loved ones defending our country.

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