Memorial Day is not about politics. Whatever your feelings about current or former wars, remember this: All military personnel take an oath. The fallen swore and gave their lives honoring a promise:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the uniform code of military justice. So help me God.”
The soldiers who gave Uncle Sam a blank check with their lives offered to answer our nation’s call to arms. The military does not decide to go to war; it just answers the call of our nation. And the numbers of those who have died answering that call continue to rise: 4,454 and counting in Iraq; 1,586 and counting in Afghanistan; 58,220 in Vietnam; 36,574 in Korea; 405,399 in World War II. Since 1775, in fact, more than 1.3 million military personnel (and counting) have given their lives for this nation.
It’s a huge number, but, then, Memorial Day is not about the numbers. It’s about the individual human being: the American, the man, the woman, the father, the brother, the spouse, the friend, the son, the uncle and the daughter who answered the call of our nation to deploy into violence, into war.
Every day is Memorial Day for the fallen’s families, friends and comrades-in-arms. Look into the eyes of Robert Dembowski Sr., or those of a Gold Star Mother, and you will see the immeasurable price that some pay for our freedoms.
Memorial Day is about the infinite void that each deceased hero leaves. It’s about the families and friends of Phelan, Crescenz, Dembowski, Frye, Spahr, Haller, Coleman, Basilone, Hartel, Ward and countless others, about their everyday pain as they continue through life even as their loved ones become names on marble monuments.
As you enjoy your federal holiday, please include in your festivities a time to remember what Memorial Day truly means: a time to stop, put down your barbecue tongs and join the families and comrades-in-arms, and think, if even just for a short time, about the sacrifice signified by the numbers on the walls.