Many of us will enjoy a holiday day off on Monday specifically because of those who have died serving this country. Memorial Day originated as “Decoration Day” between 1866-68 to decorate the graves of our Civil War dead with flowers. The holiday was officially expanded in 1971 to honor all American war dead. Every American should do some reflecting on the meaning of this ultimate sacrifice made by so many.
I do think I understand the loss to some small extent, even though I’m fortunate to not have lost loved ones to war. While working for NEC around ten years ago in our DC office, I went our for a morning run. It was a crisp Easter Sunday. As I ran down New York Avenue to the Capitol Mall, the combination of cold air and warm rushing blood heightened my senses. I ran past the reflecting pool and up the stairs of the Lincoln Memoral to marvel at the size of a marbelized old Abe sitting in his chair. As I exited, I saw black and headed directly there.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is made up of two black granite walls about 250 feet long that meet to form a “V.” Inscribed are the names of over 58,000 who died. The walls are sunk into the ground with the top level with the earth behind them. At the apex of the “V”, they are just over ten feet high, and they taper down to eight inches (20cm) at each end, so when I approached, the wall was underwhelming. I began my descent. As I walked down, my breathing was slowing toward the stillness of the place. I scanned the thousands of names, but I wasn’t moved. Then I saw a rose, just like this one.
There was a note with it. I haltingly stooped down, opened the note and read, “To my son. I love you and I miss you. Mom.” I felt an immediate and overwhelming rush of emotion and quickly resumed my run to get out of there. It wasn’t the enormity of over 58,000 names that got me, but the personal pain of one mother grieving the loss of her child.
Did you know that there is a National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm on Memorial Day? It asks Americans, wherever they are, to pause for one-minute in an act of national unity. It is intended to help reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred holiday it was meant to be. So, regardless of the politics of our wars, the dead didn’t make the policy. Give them a minute on Monday.