The Bakersfield Californian
On this Memorial Day, take a moment to remember service and sacrifice
Idon’t know where I will find myself on Monday when “Taps” is played at the National Memorial Day program at Arlington National Cemetery. But count on this: I won’t be partying it up at a backyard barbecue bash or dashing from store to store in a shopping mall catching doorbuster sales.
I also can’t say whether I will devote an hour or minutes to remembering the fallen. But I know with certainty that some time will be spent giving thanks for the men and women who shed their blood and sacrificed their lives in service to the United States.
They were brothers and sisters in a military uniform that I proudly shared as a commissioned officer in the Army.
At his dedication of the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the sacrifice of the fallen troops as having given “the last full measure of devotion” to the nation. Generations have given their all. A few of them were college classmates and fellow ROTC graduates who returned home from Vietnam in flag-draped coffins. There will be no picnics for any of them. They won’t be joining any trips to the mall. Or family get-togethers. They, and the more than 65,000 U.S. service members who were killed in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, will never know what it’s like to get a day off the job, to gas up the car and hit the road.
And regrettably, many of them will be simply forgotten. But we can’t let it go with that.
What then am I asking? Take a pass on holiday sales? Close the grill? Spend Monday wearing sackcloth and ashes as an outward, ostentatious sign of mourning? Perish those thoughts. But to reduce Memorial Day to just a grand occasion to kick off the summer is disrespectful of those who gave all they had.
Besides, Memorial Day has a special resonance for this D.C. native. We still don’t have what we have rightly earned as citizens: full and equal representation in Congress or full authority to govern ourselves. Yet the service and sacrifice of D.C. residents in the protection of the country, which should be a source of national tribute, is not even afforded an afterthought.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., however, has detailed the costs borne by the District in a resolution introduced in advance of Memorial Day recognizing D.C.’s service members and veterans.
Most Americans, I dare say, do not know the facts in Norton’s resolution:
■ 635 D.C. residents were casualties of World War I, a figure greater than that observed by three states during that war.
■ The casualty figure of 3,575 D.C. residents lost in World War II was greater than that sustained by four states.
■ The 547 D.C. residents who were Korean War casualties were greater than that observed by eight different states.
■ 243 District residents were casualties of the Vietnam War, a casualty figure greater than that observed by 10 states.
We D.C. residents have more than paid our dues, but we have done so, as Norton says, “without the equal protections of American democracy.”
So yes, I’m going to carve out a stretch of time on Monday to honor the men and women who have paid the ultimate price. But mockers of Memorial Day observances, let not your hearts be troubled. I am a realist. Memorial Day has been successfully, and probably irrevocably, appropriated by many for pleasure and profit. So, all I’m asking is that you take a moment — one moment out of the day to remember — to commemorate the service and sacrifice. Those of us in the autumn of our years will appreciate that simple act of yours. So too will the families and friends of the fallen.