On this special day it is easy to forget why we Americans have set aside a single 24 hours of the year to honor those servicemembers who have passed on whether it was through injuries or sickness occurred on the battlefield – or those others who have died in different ways in their line of duty.
Readers here know that I spent 33 years in the military and worked with every branch of the Armed Forces at one time or another over my career. Yet even with that experience as the overriding influence of my adult life I sometimes also tend to overlook what today means.
I say ‘easy to forget’ because it seems, to me at least, that as time passes Memorial Day is increasingly advertised as parties, shop sales, restaurant specials, etc. Even the formerly ever present Memorial Day parades have become less and less prevalent these days.
In the weeks before now we get inundated with almost anything but what today is truly intended for; a moment to take ease from your daily work and have the time to reflect on what others have sacrificed for the American citizens who came along after them.
No one makes us do that. No government, religion, institution or organization has the right, or truly the power even, to force our appreciations of today or of anything else. Understanding the importance of this most special day is inside ourselves, and while some feel the loss of ancestors and family loved ones who died in Service every single day, most of us need to be reminded sometimes.
Today is that day.
There are ways to help understand the magnitude of how and why our service men and women, past, present and undoubtedly the future, gave the “last full measure” so that we could enjoy the essential freedoms we have today.
And those freedoms are many. No matter how divided we are in societal ways we all have opportunities to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, mostly without restrictions depending on what it is. We all know nothing is perfect. We all know that there are ills and prejudices in our country and, in varying degrees, in many of our formal institutions.
The big and important question is what will you and I do about those negatives so as to make the sacrifices made by those we memorialize on this day even more important and effective? Can we carry over the ideals they fought and died for? Can we look forward with all personal honesty and say that we will try harder to make this a most safe and just country for all of us?
Not only for ourselves and those we know, but for all of our fellow citizens of the United States regardless of how they differ from us. Personal differences on the battlefield were not anywhere near as important as the mission and our national cemeteries are filled with the dead of every race, religion and social class who did not question who was fighting alongside them.
Today is the day to ask ourselves hard and sometimes bitter questions. If we have been mistreated and insulted in our lifetimes can we rise above that even for a short time? One can never forget those slights, but is it possible to conduct ourselves in the opposite manner of those who harmed us instead of continuing to take it out on others who had no hand in the matter?
I am perhaps the most guilty of all when it comes to forgiving others’ actions but believe me when I say I now take the hard and honest effort to not just recognize what has happened to me but to ensure that I never carry that forward in any way, shape or form. I need to work hard to be the best man I can possibly be and that won’t end until I lie in my grave surrounded by my brothers and sisters in arms.
What does all that have to do with Memorial Day?
First we need to acknowledge that those Americans who fought and died helped to create the space in our lives for something bigger and more fruitful for not only ourselves but so to help our fellow peoples.
That understood I believe the beauty and essence of Memorial Day is this: when we can realize the full extent of what those men and women who died in Service did for us, and even before they died, which we tend to overlook, then we can well and finally understand that their actions allowed us the ability to live in a time and place where we are free to reflect and work on our best selves. They all gave us the freedom and abilities to take actions we deem necessary to lift others around us to be the best those others can be also.
There is no better gift than that my friends and I thank those who we memorialize today from the very bottom of my heart.
LCDR Reed H. Kohberger, USCG (Ret.).