Memorial Day is a solemn day to think about dead people, broken families, orphaned children, blood and ultimate scarifies. So, why do we put “Happy” in front of it? Why do we have family BBQs in the back yard, coolers full of beer in the park and carefree children celebrating a day off from school?
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. is 246 feet long and lists 58,000 names of fallen American soldiers. Were it to include all American soldiers who died in service, it would be 5,888 feet long – that’s more than a mile. (Or, to put that into American measurements, it’s 16 football fields.)
Memorial Day started as a commemoration of Americans – Northern and Southern – who died in the Civil War. That’s a whopping 600,000 people. Which is about half of all the soldiers who died in service. The concept of 1.2 million people dying in trenches and stepping on mines or being gassed, napalmed, or tortured to death is a grizzly thing to ponder. So, again, what’s up with “Happy”? Imagine the looks you’d get if you went up to someone and wished them a “Happy 9/11”.
“Thoughtful,” “reflective” or “peaceful” seems much more appropriate. Wearing black like pallbearers is more logical than wearing swimsuits. Just walking the 246 feet length of the Vietnam War Memorial brings tears, anger, and stirs emotions that most of us would rather not face. walking the whole length, which can be too overwhelming, firing up a BBQ is not the first thing that comes to mind.
The names on that wall and walls not built yet died courageously, some timidly, some angrily and in some cases didn’t know that they did. They fought in good wars, bad wars, and probably some illegal wars. They fought willingly and they fought because of rigged systems that weeded out kids who couldn’t go to college or couldn’t grow an overnight bone spur.
Whatever way you look at it, though, notice that there’s no Nazi flag hanging in your office. That you don’t say “what’s that” when a person says “synagogue.” Take note that New York, Chicago and Los Angeles aren’t mythical lands from before the nukes fell. And consider that we don’t have to study about a time the military chain of command broke, and a coup took over the east coast (excluding Florida – the imaginary coup wouldn’t want that).
People around the world want to live in America because they see it as a symbol of hope that won’t die. And for hope to stay alive, a lot of people, sadly, had to die protecting it. Maybe Memorial Day isn’t about putting flowers at graves with a tear but setting them down with a smile and a subtle nod. Because those are the people who saw the mortar coming and hoped that -- if they couldn't -- their buddies would make it home to have family BBQs in the back yard, coolers full of beer in the park and carefree children celebrating a day off from school.
Right now, there’s a rumble in New York City from military jets circling to make sure those picnics aren’t disturbed. So, Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Pass me down a beer.