I hate to say it, but many Americans these days are pretty spoiled. I keep hearing that the current young generation wants socialism because they think their lives are so hard and there’s never been anyone in history with such bleak prospects for the future (they don’t understand that socialism is actually a sure-fire formula for hard lives and bleak prospects.)
In truth, they have it better than any generation that’s ever walked the Earth. They’ve grown up knowing only unprecedented peace, health, prosperity and safety. Even those from families of modest means take for granted luxuries that kings of previous centuries could only dream of. Diseases that used to kill millions of children now strike only those who deliberately refuse to be vaccinated. They use their iPads and smart phones to go on social media sites and complain about how free market capitalism never did anything for them. They think that sacrifice means spending spring break at a hotel with spotty wi-fi.
But once a year, on the last Monday in May, we all set aside a day to honor our fellow Americans who made the greatest of all sacrifices so that the rest of us could continue enjoying the blessings of liberty and security.
Memorial Day was born after the Civil War, when families would take a day to tend and decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. It soon spread to the North, and became known as Decoration Day. Eventually, it became a national holiday to honor all American military veterans who gave up their homes, their families, their very lives -- everything they had, or ever dreamed of having – all in sacrifice for their country. And just how many have made that ultimate sacrifice? Brace yourself:
From the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, the Civil War and Spanish American war, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other wars, police actions and rescue missions since 1776, over one million, three hundred and eight thousand Americans in uniform have laid down their lives for their country.
Imagine if all those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen could come back to life for a parade in their honor. Picture them marching past in rows of ten, each row taking just 10 seconds to pass. That parade of fallen heroes would march on and on, row after row, 360 rows per hour, for hour after hour, 24 hours a day, for over 15 straight days. That is the enormity of the sacrifice that has been made to preserve our freedom and security. That doesn’t even include the millions more who sacrificed their limbs, their sight, their peace of mind, and the best years of their lives, all for us.
These heroes gave their lives to protect such cherished American principles as freedom, liberty, equality, democracy, fighting tyranny and defending the weak. They guarded these bedrock principles so that they could be passed down to us. It is now our sacred duty to preserve them for future generations.
Every year, the American Legion sells poppy pins to support veterans and their families. May 24th was National Poppy Day. (https://www.legion.org/poppyday ) I hope you bought one and are wearing it proudly. The poppy became the symbol of Memorial Day, thanks to the famous poem, “In Flanders’ Fields,” by Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. He wrote it in memory of his friend Alexis Helmer, whom he watched die in battle in World War I.
The poem starts, “In Flanders’ fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row.”
Today, as we do all the fun activities that mark the beginning of summer, let’s also remember to fly our flags, attend parades, visit veterans’ hospitals and tend the graves of our loved ones. And let’s all stop to think of all the rows and rows of crosses in veterans’ cemeteries, to say a prayer of thanks to them, and remember that each and every cross represents a genuine American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.
McCrae’s poem ends, “To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch. Be yours, to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders’ fields.” If you really want to memorialize these greatest of American heroes, then take up the torch they passed to us. Hold it high. And NEVER let it drop.