May 30, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if there was no Memorial Day? Now veterans and patriots alike don't come marching into the office after that first sentence without reading the rest of this piece. I'm not suggesting removing the holiday (I wouldn't even consider giving up a vacation day of any sort, let alone one of such magnitude that calls upon all of us to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.) Instead, I'm only pondering what a perfect world this might be if there was no need for a Memorial Day holiday. There is no way we would not memorialize our veterans of the armed services, unless we didn't have folks to remember. The only way that could happen is if the world had no war, no evil and no threats to the pursuit of life and liberty. We all know that's not the case, so we do the next best thing and pay tribute the best way we know how.

Unfortunately this year we have been forced to memorialize not only the men and women of the traditional armed forces. Those ranks have been forced wider courtesy of the September 11 terrorist attacks that added firemen, law officers, and citizens of all walks of life to the list of those that have given their lives to their country. The hundreds of men and women that died in these attacks were not carrying weapons, piloting jet fighters or navigating naval vessels. Yet they died in the name of the United States, under the banner of the Stars and Stripes simply because they were Americans.

Yet it was this terrible act that has made this holiday so real for many of us younger Americans who have not seen the scars of war, the tears of loss and the pain of burying a fallen soldier. Those who lived through Pearl Harbor can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the Japanese bombs falling on American territory. Today very few folks do not have a recollection of that terrible moment when they saw images of the smoking tower in New York City or when CNN showed live footage of the second plane smashing into the building.

It was these horrible pictures along with images of volunteers sifting through the debris, loved ones crying about their losses, and a tattered flag being raised above the rubble by a group of firemen, that were going through my head as the Memphis Memorial Day services were held at the VFW. Always before I had attended the event, but never before had it made more sense to me. Yet instead of feeling relieved by my relevation I suddenly felt guilty about all the previous years that I felt I had simply gone through the motions. Sure I had been honoring our war veterans, but not having lived through war, I did not know the power of patriotism and the love of country that fueled these men and women to do what they did so valiantly for all of us.

I've never put on a uniform, nor taken a rifle and stood a post. To all of those who have, all I can offer is a heart-felt thank you. On Memorial Day I pause to remember those who have passed on to us the gift of freedom. While it may be to late to thank many of those who served and protected us, we still have the opportunity to support and encourage our current armed forces personnel. And as Sam Berkowitz said in his Memorial Day service speech, in those cases where it is still not to late to talk with friends, neighbors and family members, we should grasp the chance. We should talk to our grandparents, our parents, the WW-II veteran in your church or the Vietnam vet that lives down the street. We should learn from them why when their time comes we will take a special moment to stop on Memorial Day and observe a moment of silence in their honor for all they have done for us.

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