There is something peaceful and gratifying about Americans — young ones and old ones — planting American flags at the gravestones of soldiers who died defending our nation.
It is a simple, beautiful, act. Some of the gravestones are from wars decades ago; others are fairly new. All of those bodies underneath knew peril that few of us will ever be asked — or volunteer — to face. And although planting a Memorial Day flag no more compensates for even a single soldier’s sacrifice than all the words written or spoken on this occasion, to not honor these heroes is worse than disrespectful; it is irreverent.
Memorial Day is our most solemn national day. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate America’s birthday. On Veterans Day, we honor — and celebrate — those among us who were willing to don U.S. military uniforms and put themselves in harm’s way in service of our country.
Many of them returned from service scarred for life, some physically, others, as we have increasingly learned in recent years, with emotional and mental wounds that heal slowly, if at all. They deserve vastly better treatment from the Veterans Administration than too many have been receiving.
Millions of American veterans today will pause in memory of comrades they went to combat zones with and fought alongside but who came home in flag-draped coffins instead of with their buddies.
Some 2.3 million American men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The overwhelming majority were fortunate enough to return home alive.
It is the more than 6,700 who did not who are remembered today. They are remembered not just by a nation grateful for their service, but by wives, husbands, children, parents and friends who feel the loss daily.
They’re now in the company of the men and women who gave their lives in great world wars and in small unnamed conflicts in distant corners of the world and even in a horrific Civil War that threatened to destroy this country. It is, in fact, the national grief from that war that gave birth to what we now call Memorial Day.
As we remember the courage and the sacrifices of the individuals who died in service of our country, let we who are fortunate enough to enjoy its bounty make certain that we also remain true to the principles for which they dedicated their lives.