Not in vain

What can we say about Memorial Day?

Some time ago, a son asked his father what it was like to serve in World War II .

All the other kids joined in, prodding the veteran to provide memories of the events that occurred during that conflict.

What did you do in the war, Daddy?

After repeated questions from a brood of youngsters, the man paused for a moment and then replied.

“All you need to know is this,” he said. “My lieutenant was one of the bravest men I knew. He kept us alive … I loved that man — and he died in my arms.”

With that brief statement, a dark look came over the father, who served in some of the bloodiest conflicts in the Battle of the Bulge.

The children had never seen such an expression before.

They were frightened, and after they fled the kitchen and into the backyard, the mother, who was washing dishes, turned toward the table, looked at her spouse and said, “They didn’t know … They don’t know.”

They don’t know.

That phrase could apply to just about any one of us, as we Americans prepare to celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer with plans for picnics, family gatherings and a multitude of parades and flag raisings.

The wreaths and speeches feel almost like an afterthought, amid all this pomp and circumstance.

People like to talk about the courage of these men and women, the ones who served in the Armed Forces of the United States — but this isn’t a day to talk about courage.

Memorial Day, an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, is all about a hard-fought truth.

Memorial Day honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it began in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day.

They do so by holding family gatherings and participating in parades. A quick search of the Internet shows an abundance of events, from the “Best Deals” at the local big-box department store, to exceptional destinations for the holiday weekend, to recommendations about which blockbuster movies to see.

If we would make a small request this Memorial Day, it is this: Feel free to enjoy yourself. But take a moment, whatever your faith, to bow your head and say a silent prayer for those who lost everything, and for those they left behind.

Then go and live your life as if their loss was not in vain.

(Editor’s Note: This opinion piece was written by now-retired Express community newspaper Reporter Jim Runkle, himself a veteran of the U.S. military. Jim retired last year. If you see him, please say hello and thank him and all veterans and active duty servicemen and women.)

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