Only a fraction of Newtown residents will turn out to the Monday, May 28, Memorial Day ceremony hosted by the VFW Post 308, if past years are any indication. Those who do attend will find a program that richly honors the servicemen and women who have laid down their lives; those who do not attend will be missing an opportunity to better understand what drives people to commit to defending our country, no matter the sacrifice.
An official national holiday for over four decades, Americans have actually been honoring the memories of those who died in service to the country for over a century. Wreaths and flowers are laid at tombstones by servicemen and women, as well as family members and town officials, in cities large and small across the country on this designated day. Speeches are made, music is played, “Taps” echoes across hills and valleys from shore to shore. Most of the ceremonies, like ours at the VFW in Newtown, are relatively brief. People are asked for only about an hour of time before heading out to the beach, barbecue, and start-of-summer activities; but many will hurry off to those activities without a second thought for the reason they are free from responsibilities on this Monday.
War is something that happens to people and places far removed from our bucolic countryside. There have been rumblings, and we know that US troops are stationed overseas in situations of varying danger…but the mountains and plains of America have not suffered from the real ravages of war since Union and Confederate troops tore apart the eastern states from north to south in the Civil War; since Native Americans and government troops sacrificed lives in western territories; since the attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted this country into war.
We are fortunate, and we forget that it is because others are willing to dedicate their lives and limbs for what they believe in that we can compartmentalize the horrors of war.
Nor can we forget that along with those who died in service are the tens of thousands upon thousands wounded, physically and mentally, since Rebels first took to the countryside during the Revolutionary War. For many, the experience of living with disabilities has been the death of life as he or she knew it before stepping up to serve in the armed forces of the United States. We commemorate all who give so much on this Memorial Day.
It would be wonderful to have the parking lots and nearby streets of the VFW overflowing with vehicles, packed with residents making the decision to take just a small portion of the day on Monday to honor those who have sacrificed their all for all of us.
Our local veterans will turn out to commemorate their fallen comrades. A crowd standing shoulder to shoulder will speak to them that their service is valued, that the memories of those who fought and died are treasured.
Then, welcome summer with a clear conscience. Then, celebrate freedom.