As we gather this weekend and on Monday to observe Memorial Day, the stated purpose is to pay tribute to fellow Americans who gave their lives in defense of their country, along with survivors of past wars and our armed forces of today both at home and overseas. Parades, speeches and gun salutes are all part of these celebrations in public squares, parks and cemeteries. The intent is to leave us with food for thought over what these honored men and women did in service to their nation, and to ponder the sacrifice the fallen made in their young lives defending their country from forces at one time bent on our subjugation, and more recently, on destruction and chaos.
For it is that willingness to give up an existence so that others may enjoy the benefits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that ennobles these folks and leaves the rest of us humbled in our larger consideration of this ideal. Those of my generation whose parents were veterans of World War II found it only natural to attain a sense of respect and gratitude for what they and their compatriots accomplished. Such sentiment lingers with me now whenever I watch the postwar coming home movie, “The Best Years of Our Lives” from 1946. I don’t mind telling you my viewing of that deeply-touching classic about the challenges faced by returning veterans usually happens without a dry eye.
Sure, maybe that is expected from the descendants of the Greatest Generation. But over the years it’s led me — and others, I hope — to consider the meaning of the ultimate sacrifice and its personal impact. Even just briefly during a weekend noted for high school graduations and the beginning of summer. Consider what, you may ask? In all of America’s wars, as well as today, young people were asked to rally to the protection of their homeland. The fact combat could lead to sudden death or dismemberment, as well as other physical and mental ills, is a reality all of these soldiers had to accept when they joined up.
It was a reality that may have been too horrible for some to contemplate, but the vast majority pressed on and took their risks, some for intensely personal reasons, others determined to get the job done and return home to the world they helped protect. For that kind of courage, we owe those fighting men and women, from the American Revolution to the sands of the Middle East, our thanks and solicitude.
We should also give pause to those folks you may know who lost a family member either 70 years ago or in one of our more recent conflicts. Think of their loss because one, perhaps more, of their family gave their lives to keep Mom, Pop and their siblings safe and free. Think of it: a life on the verge of adulthood with plans for a future when it’s all over, now gone, a statistic for trying to make a future for others. It’s what some folks call the price paid in that oft-used phrase, “freedom isn’t free,” but it’s still heart-breaking at its worst and sobering in the least.
That’s what I’m talking about with sacrifice and our celebration of Memorial Day. It’s all about honoring the cost in human terms to make the United States the nation it is, a beacon of hope for the world, despite what some individuals may believe. And it’s certainly deserving of more than a passing thought or two on a three-day weekend.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.