This weekend is Memorial Day weekend in the United States of America. I dare say, most Americans only think of it as a 3 day weekend with beer, brats, boats, and family. It has become a time to grill or BBQ your meats of choice, to invite over friends and family for fun and games, to drink some beverages and share experiences since your last gathering. It is the unofficial start of summer…..of warmth…the impending end to the school year for millions of children and young adults…and even relief to those of us that work all day and will get some respite from school buses and teenagers behind the wheel on our morning commutes. It is a time for Memorial Day sales at Best Buy, Kohls, Walmart, Car Dealerships…any way to maximize profit and traffic no matter the venue. Memorial is much more than that….and should be a much deeper experience than a full belly and a hangover. It DESERVES much more…would you hold a political campaign speech or ask for investments from family and friends at a loved ones funeral? Ever wonder why it became expected and even accepted on Memorial Day?
Though we think of Memorial Day as a strictly American holiday there in fact are quite a few countries that remember their fallen heroes. The Australians and New Zealanders have Anzac Day, the Netherlands has Dodenherdenking, England has Remembrance Day, and Belgium has Armistice. In America it was officially enacted in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson in Waterloo NY which is considered the birthplace of Memorial Day. Why? On May 5, 1866 they honored their local veterans that fought and died in the Civil War. Originally was called Decoration Day and a dozen or more cities claim the title but it is generally accepted that Waterloo started it all. The tradition of wearing red poppies did not come until after a poem called In Flanders Fields by Moina Michael in 1915 was recognized and she conceived the idea to wear them in honor of those you died…she was the first to wear one and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers and gave the money to benefit servicemen in need. Today the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) is the organization to nationally sell the poppies.
American Memorial Day as mentioned started to honor the dead of our Civil War where brother fought brother and so many lives were lost. The Confederate Memorial Day was proclaimed as mandatory in the south and soon the White House called for it to be observed by rest of country as an annually observed holiday for all. The name evolved from Decoration Day to Memorial Day around 1882 but did not become common until after World War II and was not the official name until made into law in 1967.
Some things to be aware….on Memorial Day the flag should be raised briskly to the top and then solemnly lowered to half-staff where it remains until noon. Then raised again to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff is to remember the more than one million service members that gave their lives in service of our country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve to not let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue to fight for liberty and justice for all. Read that last line…..to not let their sacrifice be in vain and to continue the good fight!!!!
Our allies hold their own memorial days as sacred as well….maybe more so than here in America. I remember many years in Europe while stationed overseas in Holland (Netherlands) where supporters that are survivors of WWI and WWII would stand at our gates and hand flowers to all the Americans coming and going. It was not just something in a history book but was something they experienced. Very likely that family members were killed or imprisoned during those periods…and they are very thankful to the liberators of Europe and more importantly of their villages and cities where they live. Our Aussie brothers have Anzac Day to commemorate all the Aussies and Kiwis “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contributions and suffering of all those who have served.” They observe theirs on 25 April each year and was originally to honor those members of both militaries that fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Yes, the Ottoman Empire was not just something from history with Crusaders and Islamic armies…it was full in effect during World War I. If you have never seen the movie about the battle of Gallipoli or read any history…it is a very poignant and surreal reminder of the spirit and bravery of the young men who fought that war and the huge loss of life and generations erased.
Armistice Day is every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between Allies of WWI and Germany at Compiegne, France. The first was held in Buckingham Palace but other countries adopted the holiday and observance and by end of WWII most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations like UK and Canada moved it to the nearest Sunday and adopted name Remembrance Day. We call this time Veterans Day and is subtly different as we do not honor our War Dead on this day but honor all Veterans living and dead in America. Why? Because we already had a memorial day in place long before this observance enacted by our allies during this period.
The Dutch (Netherlands) have their Dodenherdenking or Remembrance of the Dead on May 4th. It commemorates the civilians and members of armed forces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands who died in war or peacekeeping missions since the beginning of the Second World War. The main commemoration in Amsterdam is broadcast to the public and special ceremonies happen in Waalsdorpervlakte which is near Den Hague where many Dutch resistance fighters were executed during the war…and the war cemetery at Grebbenberg. They observe two minutes of silence, people gather around the monument, listen to speeches, and lay down flowers to remember the dead. The following day on 5 May they celebrate their liberation from the German occupation that lasted from 1940-1945.
I am not sure if it is because there has not been a war fought on American soil since our own Civil War and none from a foreign enemy since our Revolutionary War much earlier…but I found a deeper respect and solace from our allies in remembering their heroes than we typically observe in America. There will be upswings in observance and reverence depending if your family has a loved one that gave the ultimate sacrifice or was severely injured physically or emotionally. Families with a strong veteran influence tend to have a bit more understanding…but by and large everyone else enjoys the party with little thought to the sacrifice.
I am not here to pound history into your brain though I may have scratched the surface but instead I want to have you pause for a moment and remember the meaning of Memorial Day here in America and also that of our Allies. We defeated evil, we saved lives, and we ensured a legacy of brotherhood and equality around the world but at great cost.
The woods of Gettysburg were soaked in the blood of Americans where streams of red ran fast from their lives being purged. The trenches of Gallipoli cried with death and suffering as our brave Aussie and Kiwi soldiers fought wave after wave of the enemy and charged overwhelming destruction at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. They knew their chances of success or even living were almost impossible but they fought on for the great good.
The resistance in Holland that sacrificed not only their own lives but those of their families and friends if captured. The allies they rescued and helped move to allied control and safety to return to their units and families. The raids and antagonism they launched against the enemy many times was enough to distract or even turn the advancement and allow for the Allies to counterattack with resounding effects.
Here we are continuing the Global War on Terrorism that was officially started when the towers fell and over 3,000 Americans were senselessly murdered by Islamic Extremists who only wanted to kill Americans and the freedoms we stood for. No concern for innocence, no desire for honor, only a deep evil grasp for martyrdom to force their religion and laws on the world through terror, destruction, and death. Sixteen years later we are still fighting this scourge of the world…the terror is spreading from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan into Europe, Asia and even America. Think about the brave military members that perished since the attack on 9-11. Think about the innocent civilians killed, maimed, beheaded and murdered by these savages every week. Think about those that were able to come home with their life blood still in their veins but with an absence of limbs, sight, hearing, or the ability to cope with the horrors of war and their own inner demons. We lose hundreds of veterans a week to suicide and complications of injuries from war…and their loss should not be forgotten or hidden from view.
I am a military veteran of over 20 years as my father was before me and hopefully my grandson will be after me. I joined the military as a newly married man in college looking for a way to finish my degree and start a career as a civilian after my obligatory 4 years. It was purely selfish as I had no inclination for a career. After joining and going through a portion of Combat Control School and then arriving in my career as an Intelligence Operations analyst later, it became a life calling. My 4 years went to 10 and before I realized it to 20. My college degree was not complete yet but my soul was complete as the military became my debt to those before me. I retired before I was ready but it was time for my family to take the place where I put my career previously. Upon my retirement, a good friend who served in our Reserve unit, Tony Levine (CMSgt USAF, Retired) prepared a phenomenal retirement ceremony but instead of thinking of myself I wanted to honor those before me. I wore a POW MIA bracelet all but the first couple years of my career. I chose the bracelet because it was a Marine as my father is a former Marine…and he was also from South Carolina. I never knew anything other than it said 1Lt James H Villeponteaux Jr, USMC 11 May 66 SVN. I thought why not try to find if there are still family members here in SC. Long story short, I found the family but the wife never remarried and her two sons never knew their father. They declined my invitation to my retirement ceremony but days before hand changed their minds and attended and sat up front with my wife and children. I presented Mrs. Villeponteaux with the Meritorious Service Medal I received for my own service and also took off the bracelet with her late husband’s name engraved and presented both to her as tears rolled down my eyes and I offered her a crisp salute for the sacrifice of her husband and men like him.
You see, our military service may start for ME but should evolve to US as it is a job of sacrifice, duty, honor, integrity and a compass of hope for those around the world without the means or the thought of defending themselves. This Memorial Day, I ask you to take two minutes as your friends or family prepare to feast. Say a few words about those that gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can sit in our yards or on our boats or in a park and watch a parade or fill ourselves with burgers or pork or fish without having to hide in fear of retribution, without constant reality of attack and death, and without having to sacrifice ourselves for this freedom and opportunity. Remember the veterans that returned incomplete with struggles to overcome both physically and mentally. Remember their families that no longer have a father, mother, brother, sister, daughter or son…or worse yet no longer have the same person that deployed in their fragile embodiment upon return.
I am not saying to not celebrate and rejoice…to embrace your family and loved ones…o revel in the good fortune we have as Americans and to pray to your god for Thanks and continued blessings….but I am saying, don’t push away the MEMORIAL for the good times….don’t extinguish the light of sacrifice and hope for the sake of fanfare and frivolity.
This organization I belong (GotUr6.org) is a dream of one man to give back to the veteran and first responder community and their families. The Board Members are a mix of Law Enforcement, US Military Veterans, and compassionate civilians that love America and recognize the sacrifice of others. Whether you hold a prayer or offer a moment of silence this Memorial Day and begin a new tradition within your family, whether you attend a Memorial Day parade and buy poppies from the VFW, or if you go and place flags on the grave markers in our national cemeteries, the act is not as important as the thought you had to do this and share it with others. Take your children to share the experience and the history with them. Go by a retirement home and invite a veteran to your home to enjoy your freedoms and family. Volunteer at the Veterans Administration or participate in a ceremony by your local municipality. If able, donate your time or resources to help others continue the mission of remembering our fallen and embracing those that have returned from war but the acts of war remain vivid in their memories or in the scars of their bodies.
If you are able, there are many organizations that support our veterans and our first responders. Some are better than others and not all are as well known. Supporting them in your own way is honorable and filled with love and believe me does make a difference to the families of these men and women who have returned home and in the memories of those that made the ultimate sacrifice that remain in our hearts and memories. I ask for you to not only consider a way of observing and honoring these heroes but to help us in our goal of helping the families of the fallen while also helping those that serve and now have specific needs and that may not ever ask for help but inside are desperately seeking a kind word, a hand up, a glint of sunshine in a deep and dark room of despair.
Our veterans and heroes have given it all…they sacrifice the birthdays of their children, the anniversaries of their parents, the graduations and first tooth, the first steps and first kiss, the sunrises and the change of seasons. I hope you will consider supporting the GotUr6 organization as we strive to help those that cannot help themselves. As we hope to honor their commitment, their sacrifice, and their pain…and to make sure they are remembered and held in esteem and America never forgets the real heroes. True American Heroes don’t wear jerseys on a sports field or act on the movie screen or flash narcissism on a music video. True American Heroes wear green and blue. True American Heroes wear prosthetics and are in wheelchairs. True American Heroes are dying from unseen mental wounds by 20 per day! 20 Heroes are leaving this earth and thinking that nobody cares and there is no hope for them….20 times per day!!!!!! Help us to be that ray of hope, that helping hand, a hug, a smile, a somber Thank You! Help us to send a child to college, buy their first bike, or attend a sporting event that they can never do with their father. Help us to recognize the sacrifices of their families that maybe are a bit behind on their mortgage or need to have a ramp built in their home for their returning veteran mother. Help us to donate to our Police Depts so that one more officer may have a protective vest. Help us to ensure that our veterans and first responders are never forgotten on this Memorial Day. With your purchases of the t-shirts or even a monetary donation, we can help begin fighting back against Veteran Suicide. They defended us and protected us from harm so now help us to give them the protection and path to happiness that we take for granted. God Bless!!!!