An Army firing party prepares for 21-gun salute on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery April 24. Similar tributes were held throughout the nation to mark Memorial Day, May 27, in remembrance of members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died in military service. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn
An Army firing party prepares for 21-gun salute on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery April 24. Similar tributes were held throughout the nation to mark Memorial Day, May 27, in remembrance of members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died in military service. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Rayanne Bennett | Associate Publisher

With the arrival of Memorial Day, and the “unofficial start to summer” last weekend, I noticed a steady stream of posts on social media and spots on television and radio that sought to remind us of the meaning of the holiday.  And rightly so. There are so many ways that such solemn and significant special days are co-opted by those who seek to sell us cars, furniture and that gas grill or patio set that you simply can’t get through your summer without.  It’s helpful to have our minds and hearts called back to the real meaning of Memorial Day.

I found myself spending time over that weekend remembering the Memorial Days of my own childhood in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when my parents made sure that our family took part in our town’s ceremonies and remembrances.  We attended the parade and gathered with other townspeople at the public library, where there was a tribute to the fallen and a 21-gun salute.  We stood in front of monuments that were erected to those who died in the Korean War and the World Wars before that. The Vietnam War was going on and emotions were raw in small towns like ours, where members of the community were painfully aware of the toll that the war had taken on our native sons and their families.

For a long time after Vietnam, there were no wars.  I remember thinking that there never would be again, because we were “too smart” to get caught up in that trap. The world had advanced too much, and the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice would not be dishonored by allowing more men and women to be taken from our midst unnecessarily. It seemed impossible that the time would ever return when decisions were made by gray-haired politicians and power brokers that would so profoundly affect the lives of our young men and women.  

Nearly 20 years will have passed before our country had to again deal with a serious question of war.  And it would be nearly 30 years before we were directly attacked and needed to respond with military force. More peaceful times meant that it was difficult to ever imagine war, or relate to it.  In reality, most Americans don’t have a clue what it is like to be in combat. We are limited to what has been related to us through films, television, the news media, books and the brave souls who have shared their stories.

Moreover, the idea that someone we know and care about, maybe someone in our own families, might have to lay down their lives in combat because of the choices of politicians is simply too painful and horrifying to consider. How could we possibly imagine that our sons and daughters, our grandsons and granddaughters, whose hands we held crossing the streets, whose noses we wiped and skinned knees we bandaged might someday be hurt or killed because someone in power decided to throw down an ultimatum, or support allies in the region with more to risk than our country? 

That sense of devastating loss we would certainly feel if it were one of ours is exactly what countless numbers of family members felt when their loved ones were lost in military action.  For us, they may just be names and photos, scrolling past in a newsfeed or flashed on the screen of the nightly news.  But for those families, the pain we can only imagine is their lived reality.

What of all the beloved sons and daughters who survived combat but have been profoundly altered? We can only guess how deep are the scars or how profoundly the quality of their lives has forever been challenged.  

As we reflect on the unfathomable human toll of war, we can be left with only one conclusion.  The best way to honor those who have fought and died in defense of our country is to say – that was enough.  Your sacrifice was enough.  Your families’ sacrifice was enough.  We will not allow power or money or political saber-rattling to lead this country into an unnecessary war and take more lives on top of the precious life you have already given.  We will work for peace and seek it out however we can.

On Memorial Day, and every day, we can express our gratitude to those who defended our nation by seeking to be a people of peace.