Duty and Sacrifice: Memorial Day is not about death. It is about duty
For the majority of Americans, Memorial Day is first and foremost a three-day weekend. Time to watch the Indianapolis 500 or a baseball game; time to open the swimming pool or have a picnic. The American flag will be appropriated to embellish ads for supermarkets, department stores, car dealers, and home improvement centers. Sales on everything from garden fertilizer to bedroom furniture will be accompanied by perfunctory messages urging us to “remember those who died for our country” as we clip our coupons and make our way to the mall. The nearest most folks will get to any graveyard, let alone a military cemetery, is a file photo in the local newspaper or obligatory footage on the television news.
It is perhaps inevitable that days set aside for even the most poignant purposes soon become mere “holidays.” The majority of people observe them as such, ignoring even their rote civic rituals. So it is with Memorial Day. Only a relatively small core of people-veterans, those still in the military, their relatives, a cadre of willing, obliged, or calculating politicians, and those citizens who retain a vestigial sense of tradition or patriotism-plan and participate in its observation.
It is a time to remember that who we are and what we are as a nation unique in history has depended on our sense of duty and its inevitable call to sacrifice.
At our cemetery on the hill above Ligonier, Pennsylvania, the observation has already begun. The folks from the veterans’ organizations have walked the rows and planted fresh American flags at the graves of their comrades. You can see hundreds of them fluttering in the sunlight or soaking limply in the rain, and there are thousands more, millions more, in cemeteries all across the United States. And in U.S. military cemeteries all over the world, the marshaled lines of simple stones stand as milestones marking the endless road of duty.
Memorial Day is not about death.
It is about duty.
And about the ultimate limit of duty-sacrifice.