Although Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, in Mississippi marks the beginning of the summer vacation and the statewide election season which will be held, first in the August primaries and later in the November general elections, many if not most of us here in the Magnolia State commemorate on this Memorial Day weekend our fallen soldiers in one way or another. Wikipedia reminds us that Memorial Day “is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May.”
The first recorded observance of the holiday (then known as “Decoration Day”) was in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865, in remembrance of the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. Memorial Day was later extended after World War I (“The War to End All Wars”) to honor all U. S. Service members who had died while in military service.
In America, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was correct when it said that on Memorial Day, we think of “Boy Scouts. Veterans. Relatives. Just Plain Patriots. Cemeteries in sunshine and shade. Bundles of flags. Hushed tones. Backs bent to the task. Old soldiers’ graves no longer plain but red, white and blue every one. Remembrance, one soldier, flier, marine and sailor at a time.”
On Memorial Day, we do not heed the words once uttered by General Douglas McArthur to an adoring U. S. Congress: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” The Post-Gazette correctly tells us that “Old soldiers do die, not fade way. Never fade away, not in memory, not while a flag remains…”
In America, we often celebrate Memorial Day around swimming pools, games, enjoying Aunt Bess’ potato salad. We see “Dad in an apron at the grill, hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, smiles, the blessing of peace.” But in Afghanistan, the Associated Press tells us that U. S. troops paused on this day to remember the fallen in Memorial Day services as the war, nearly a decade old after the September 11, 2001 attacks, after more than 1400 U. S. soldiers killed in combat, trudges on.
In flag-raising ceremonies at dawn on this day, Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Craparotta, the commander of the Marine Division in one of Afghanistan’s southern provinces near Pakistan, stated: “We reflect today on those that have gone before us. We reflect on their service and their sacrifice on behalf of our great nation. We should also remember those serving today who embody that same commitment of service and sacrifice. They are committed to something greater than themselves and they muster the physical and moral courage to accomplish extraordinary feats in battle.” If you have ever served in the military, you know that the General speaks the truth.
According to the AP, the remembrance ceremony in Afghanistan caused some to reflect on “sharp pangs of loss”, like Maj. Erica Iverson, 33, of South Dakota, who once served as a casualty assistance officer after the death of Staff Sgt. Adam Dickmyer of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She “recounted how Dickmyer’s mother fell off her chair in grief when her son’s body returned to the U.S. His widow chased after the casket, screaming: “Don’t leave me!” “His wife has an empty house” Iverson said. “His entire unit came home today, and he didn’t come with them.”
It is said that the worst stress during times of war is that of family members waiting at home for their loved ones to return. Therefore, as the sun sets on this Memorial Day in 95º heat here in the Magnolia State, we say God bless this land of the free. God bless those served and sacrificed (and those who are still serving and sacrificing) to keep it free. Never let them fade away, not while a flag remains.