"According to news commentator and Episcopalian Jon Meacham," wrote The Rev. Carolynne G. Williams,canon for pastoral care and elder ministry at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, GA, " less than one-half of one percent of Americans serve on active duty in our combined armed forces. I was shocked at the number."
Our armed forces and the families of those serving are huge, in my mind. My father, who died in 2002 at the age of 75, served in World War II. My uncle Art, who is like my second dad, survives at age 88. He served not only in World War II but also in Korea. My cousin, Matthew, served in Vietnam, and a mentor and friend in the priesthood, Msgr. Bill Galagher, served in the First Gulf War (Desert Storm). Others dear to me fortunately served in peace time postings. I was forunate that those who served and that have been dear to me were able to come home. We all know some, however, whose loved ones served gallantly but did not return.
Those that, as Lincoln said, "gave the last full measure of devotion," deserve at least a moment of silence out of respect and thanksgiving for the great sacrifice they made. When I was younger, in my hometown, the morning of Memorial Day was a sober affair. A parade featuring living veterans in our community made its way from one war memorial to another. At each, an honor guard gave a wreathe was laid, there was a volley salute, taps was played and a moment of silence followed. This took most of the morning, timed to end at the main memorial in the center of town at just about noon. All flags were at half-satff until the noon bells rang. It was then that the somber celebration turned its attention to family, picnics, and events marking the beginning of summer.
Many veterans are buried in St. Mark's Cemetery. We mark their graves annually by placing small national flags at their headstone. Market Square in Lewistown is dominated by the War Monument. While we can sometimes fantasize about the gallantry of those who have fought our battles, they fought not for their own glory, but that we might have peace. So, in the words of Civil War General John A. Logan, "We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance."
How will you remember our war dead on this Memorial Day? Is this just another long weekend for you? Is this weekend just another opportunity to tap the screen of your iPad to download a coupon for a great sale? Don't misunderstand me. I do these things as well.
But, I believe that when we look into the eyes of those who have served our country and we have the opportunity to talk with them, we should seize the moment. There is pride and stability represented in those men and women. There is a respect that yearns to be shown in the midst of our overlooking the humanness of their experience. In our hurriedness, we tend to forget the costs of war, not only of munitions and logistics, but the priceless human costs of those that gave their lives and those who return, whose lives are forever changed by their experience.
On this Memorial Day, in the midst of our long weekend of sleeping in, shopping, rounds of golf, beach trips and finishing those last three books, all of which are wonderful and fun things to do and be a part of, let us pause for a moment or two to recall, reflect, and remember those who have protected our great nation and its place in the world.
Have a good Memorial Day.