Memorial Day – Just Another Day Off?

Many of the holidays we celebrate have largely become just another day off.  Memorial Day is unfortunately one of those holidays.  Sadly, without the sacrifices that were intended to be remembered when what we now know as Memorial Day was first established, we would unlikely be able to enjoy our “day off” as much as we do.

I’m certain all reading this appreciate the service of those currently serving our country at home and abroad as well as those who have served.  I’m a proud former member of the United States Air Force serving six years in the Strategic Air Command (SAC).  The SAC motto was “Peace is Our Profession”.

You saw that motto every time you drove in the main gate. When you drove by the alert pad with its contingent of B-52’s waiting for “the call” as one of the legs of our defense, you knew it was true.  Ronald Reagan was correct when he said, “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”  The cold war was won through strength and SAC was reorganized to reflect the new threats facing our country.

I was privileged to meet some great people whose names will never be known to most of their countrymen but who served and protected them none-the-less.  From young airmen, some of who didn’t need a razor yet, to seasoned NCO’s, some of which had served in Korea and Vietnam.  From young pilots flying old B-52’s and KC-135’s which were older than they were to seasoned officers who didn’t get respect just because of their rank but because they were true leaders.

These were the men and women I was privileged to serve with and my experience has been repeated time after time, year after year in our armed services.  It is the reason why we still enjoy our freedoms.  I have been privileged to know some who paid a significant price in defense of our country.  Bill Reich is one of those individuals.

Bill was an F-4 pilot in Vietnam.  He flew a number of missions over Vietnam, the last of which earned him a stay in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  What a moving moment it was last fall when I watched my friend meet and greet one of his fellow prisoner of war and Hanoi Hilton “guest”, John McCain in O’Fallon, Missouri.  Words cannot begin to describe the depth of the bond of those comrades in arms who gave us so much and ask for so little in return.

It is certainly important that we acknowledge those who are currently serving or have served our country and returned to their family and friends.  However, Memorial Day, as the name implies, is to be observed in memory of those who served but did not return to their family and friends.  Our success, our prosperity is due in large part to their sacrifices.

Growing up, I remember the day being called Decoration Day.  We would go to the cemeteries, assist in their clean-up and lay flowers, wreaths and flags on the graves of veterans.  Fitting for the service rendered by them, while the graves of veterans were being cleaned up, all other graves were as well.  Today, it sadly appears we take Declaration Day, Memorial Day and what it stands for, for granted.

Admiral Nimitz in delivering a remembrance of those who died in the Pacific during World War II made a statement that holds true for every war and is applicable to everyone who has died in the service of their country:

“They fought together as brothers in arms, they died together and now, they sleep side by side…To them we have a solemn obligation, the obligation to ensure that their sacrifice will help make this a better and safer world in which to live”

Memorial Day, just another day off?  I hope that you would agree with me that it indeed, at least for a few moments in recognition of those who gave so much; should not be just another day off.