As we approach Memorial Day, memories of past celebrations of this holiday come to mind. As a child, Memorial Day signaled the first holiday of the summer (although it technically takes place while it is still Spring).
Memorial Day observance goes back to the Civil War, and was intended to honor and pay homage to soldiers who died in serving the nation. Originally, it was called ‘Decoration Day’, and people visited cemeteries to clean and place flowers at the gravesites of fallen soldiers. Eventually, the day was expanded to honor all deceased persons.
I remember traveling to cemeteries around the Chicago, IL area to visit the graves of my parents and other family members, as well as the graves of men who had served with my uncle/adoptive father during WWII. The day always began in a very solemn mode. The visitations took place early. After visiting gravesites, we often took a trip downtown to watch the Memorial Day parade. Soldiers, sailors, marines and Air Force personnel and machinery would march along the parade route along with veteran’s groups and dignitaries.
We often held a family picnic at one of the many parks. I remember the hot dogs, chips and soda, and taking turns cranking the wooden ice cream maker until our arms were sore. We played games of baseball and basketball, and ran around until our throats were sore and our legs ached. As we gathered around the table to feast on our picnic fare, my Uncle David, the patriarch of the family, would say a prayer for those who had died in service of our country and for those who were currently serving.
This holiday took on a more serious aura than it does today. Memorial Day parades and other activities seemed to be much more well-attended then than they are now. Many view it a simply another day off work. People seem to have forgotten that freedom is not free, and that many have died fighting to preserve our freedom.
Much of the media have labeled our military personnel as barbarians and baby killers, while ignoring the clear fact that, without a strong military, we stand to lose all of our freedoms. Instead of declaring that our military has provided freedom to much of the world, and beat back fascism, Nazism, totalitarianism and numerous despots, they depict our military as something to be hated and despised.
Amazingly, many young people still answer the call to serve. When the draft was eliminated, many people believed we would never be able to raise a standing army, believing that there was insufficient honor or love of country for people to voluntarily serve. Some legislators have called for the reinstatement of the draft, in spite of the fact that most services generally meet or exceed their recruitment targets.
I honor those young people who step up to serve in our armed forces. It is heart-rending when any soldier loses his or her life in war, but it is encouraging to see Christ’s love through the lives of our soldiers. Jesus said, in John 15, “Greater love has no other than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I try to make it a habit thank God for those who have paid the ultimate price, and to honor any serviceman and women by just saying, “Thanks for what you do for us.” It’s the least we can do, considering what they face on a daily basis for people they don’t even know. God
bless them all!
By James J. Jackson