What do you say on Memorial Day? Especially while an unpopular war continues to divide the country so bitterly that little if anything seems to get done because of all of the arguing.
You send your condolences to the families who’ve lost loved ones. Not that there is anything anyone can say that can make it any easier.
You thank soldiers any time you encounter one, because you know that they could face the same fate serving this country.
You talk to kids to make sure the next generation understands what those who have come and gone before them have sacrificed so that they can live in a nation that values freedom so highly. (Depending on which freedoms we’re talking about in a given moment, that is.)
But what do you say to the soldiers who have died? If you could talk to a soldier who had lost his or her life while serving the country, what would you say? Would you thank them? Would you apologize? Would you look down at your shoes and shift your weight, hoping that words might eventually come?
I think I’d ask the soldier about their life. Their family. Their hopes. Their dreams.
These are the things that always seem to be lost in the haze of controversy. We get so worked up over numbers — how many troops have died since the war began, how many more have died this year than last, how many less have died in this war than in others — that we seem to forget so easily that each one of them was a person who had the same fears, ambitions, and desire to live that all of us have.
Some of them made a decision to volunteer for service. That doesn’t mean their death was “deserved.” It doesn’t mean, no matter how right you think a war happens to be, that their deaths were any less tragic.
The War in Iraq makes a lot more people pause to think about Memorial Day. If there wasn’t a war, would you be as likely to take the time? If we weren’t still losing troops, would you notice when one of these “military holidays” roll around? Or would you just enjoy your day off and pay no attention to the occasion?
I heard someone today wish someone else a “Happy Memorial Day.” Memorial Day isn’t a day that should be happy. It should be solemn. It should be a day of respect that we spend counting the sacrifices our soldiers have made carrying out missions our country deemed — for whatever reasons — necessary.
The ironic thing is that these same soldiers, in performing those functions and giving their lives to see them carried out, provided the rest of us with the ability to do whatever we want to do on a day like this, without ever noticing that the price tag for freedom in America is high.