Memorial Day: A Somber Celebration

from Chaplain (Colonel-Retired) Steven L. Berry
Advisory Board, Hardrock Charlie Foundation

Recently, I was talking with a family member about Memorial Day. Himself a fellow Veteran of service in the 75th Ranger Regiment, he was thinking of his Brothers, who were killed in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. With that on his mind, he posed this question: “Why does this weekend come every year? As if we would forget?” His question was a good one, and not one to be dismissed, born as it was from personal, lingering grief over the loss of his Brothers; in fact, then, of his Family.

While I do wish with all my heart that there was, in fact, neither reason nor need for a day designated as “Memorial” anything, both our national history and our personal experiences testify to the contrary. The sons and daughters of our Republic have, since its inception, given their lives in Her service to secure liberty for generations of Americans, whom they, themselves, would doubtless never know. They set aside their own personal dreams and desires for the sakes of others, and, as surety, they have paid with their lives.

In the light of their sacrifice, I, therefore, find that I am gladdened by our having set aside a national Memorial Day to honor their gallant service and, particularly, their deaths for the cause of liberty.

Additionally, in my view, a designated Memorial Day is not a reminder for we who have worn the cloth of the Department of Defense, for we need no reminder of its cost. Neither is it necessary for the Gold Star Families, whose hearts yet ache for having given so much.

We and they, all members of “the Tribe”, will not forget; not ever. To me, observing a Day in Memorial is a national “must.” It is a national duty – a moral obligation – to remind our citizenry at-large the great debt that we, together, owe to those who gave all their tomorrows so that we might be free today.

Often there is tension within our conversations about a proper attitude toward Memorial Day. I myself confess to being a bit vexed and way more than a little put off on the first occasion that someone greeted me with a cheerful, “Happy Memorial Day!” greeting. “Happy” was not then, nor is it not now, the adjective that I prefer to associate with Memorial Day. As noted, I am glad that we set aside a national day to remember our military dead. Furthermore, I am glad that, from our country’s beginnings, there have been generations of Americans, who felt that this country was worth the investment of their very lives. But I am saddened by the great and painful cost in the loss of their lives.

So, with all this in view, I say this: Eat the hot dog. Eat a hamburger, too. Enjoy the tasty beverage. Sit on the beach. Relax by the pool or the fire pit. And, remember them. Say their names out loud. Tell the stories. For it is because of them, we enjoy the liberty – the freedom – to do these things. Weep for them, if you wish. Celebrate their lives and, in so doing, you will honor their deaths. Call your Ranger Buddy. Someone is struggling hard with all this, and he needs to hear your voice. RLTW