Thoughts with Richard Bleil
There is something inherently uncomfortable with wishing somebody a “happy Memorial Day”, at least for me. As Americans fire up their outdoor grill, as I will be doing myself, it’s too easy to just think of Memorial Day as a holiday to extend our weekend, but it’s so much deeper than that.
There are, in America, three holidays that are related to the armed forces. The first, Armed Forces Day, is specifically to celebrate those currently serving. The US pulled out of Afghanistan nine months ago with a great deal of criticism. Now that we have ended that long-term war that I said would last over a decade and my friends insisted wouldn’t even last a month, the conflicts that the US are in have been greatly reduced. Our military is still active in nations around the world, but it seems as though our shooting wars are currently on pause. With the Ukraine, there’s a real danger of a shooting war erupting with Russia or a related country at any time, but with our military, still the strongest military in the world, at least that threat is reduced. Russia has shown that they are willing to roll over nations that they believe they can easily defeat (and the Ukraine has proven how wrong they can be), so with a weaker military a war may have already erupted. So, thank you to all of our service members active in the military.
Veteran’s Day is a celebration of those who have served in our military but have been discharged. This celebrates the services of those who survived, and a great reminder that their service is just as important as those currently serving. These men and women served their country with honor and courage and made a real difference whether or not they have seen any “action”. As I’ve already stated, a strong military has kept more enemies than we know at bay, so thank you all for your service and courage.
Today is Memorial Day. It is, without a doubt, the most somber of the three holidays, as it celebrates the service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in their duty to the nation. Yes, this day celebrates those patriots who lost their lives while serving. Over a million Americans died in the Civil War (over 600,000) and World War II (over 400,000) alone, our two most devastating wars in terms of human loss.
We don’t always agree with what the military does. As troops came home from Vietnam, protesters threw bags of urine at them and chanted “baby killers”. But it’s important to remember that in Vietnam alone, we lost over 50,000 Americans. While those protesters were trying to bring shame to the troops, they only succeeded in shaming themselves. Regardless of whether or not the war was just, the fact is that the soldiers did not cause the war, and certainly didn’t go of their own accord. They were ordered into the conflict, and they fought and died in executing the orders that they were given.
I completely disagree with the conflict in Afghanistan, and have done so from day one, but you will never hear me give any disparaging remarks against the men and women who fought the war. I’ll criticize former president George W. Bush for sinking us into that mess, but I admire our armed forces and the efforts they gave in that two-decade debacle, including the more than two thousand Americans who died in that desert.
It’s equally appropriate to remember those who lost loved ones to war on Memorial Day. Fallen soldiers rarely die alone. They leave behind parents, siblings, spouses, children and countless other loved ones. The nightmares of those loved ones watching their child, spouse, parent, friend going off to serve had become a dreadful reality, knowing they will never again see or hold their fallen service member. I am pretty much the loneliest man in the world, and even I have friends who would miss me if I were lost.
I’m not calling on an end to the gatherings, cookouts, zoo visits or other forms of enjoyment of the federal mandated day off. We need to celebrate, we need to recharge our batteries, we need to have good days and memories. But, maybe, this year, we can take a moment on Memorial Day to think of those who fell to allow us to have this holiday, whether we know those fallen soldiers or not. Somewhere, there is a soldier who fell in the Revolutionary War, long-lost even by their own lineage that is remembered by none of us, and yet, that individual, fought and died for us to be here today. For my part, many thanks to all of our service people, and on this day, thank you to those who sacrificed their own lives for me, a person they had never met or known would exist.