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This Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect

Members of the Old Guard prepare to place flags in front of every headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Thursday. Soldiers were to place nearly a quarter of a million U.S. flags at the cemetery as part of a Memorial Day tradition.
Members of the Old Guard prepare to place flags in front of every headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Thursday. Soldiers were to place nearly a quarter of a million U.S. flags at the cemetery as part of a Memorial Day tradition. The Associated Press

We must remember, and we do.

To Centre County’s credit, handsome and well-kept memorials in many of our villages and towns honor our fallen sons and daughters. We don’t have to wait until Memorial Day to pay our respects.

Yet, for most of us, we’ve designated one day of the year for turning our thoughts to the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces. This time of year, on late spring days brimming with sunshine and life, it can be hard to do. It’s much easier to gather with friends, fire up a grill and bask in the coming of summer.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to steal a “Seinfeld” line: A holiday is meant for relaxing and enjoyment. We just shouldn’t forget who paid the bill for the party.

If you can’t attend the historic ceremony in Boalsburg, which stakes a claim to being Memorial Day’s birthplace, or the moving tribute that local veterans service organizations hold annually in Bellefonte, take a few moments to reflect on what we’re remembering.

By that, I don’t mean military service in general. That deserves our appreciation and everlasting gratitude — on Veterans Day. Memorial Day should be reserved for contemplating the tragedy of lives cut short.

It’s a profoundly sad endeavor — overwhelming in certain spots.

Some years ago, I stood in the Normandy American Cemetery in France, on the bluff above Omaha Beach at Colleville-sur-Mer. Rows upon rows of white crosses and Stars of David stretched out for acres like buoys on a sea of green. I didn’t have any family buried there, but tears welled in my eyes. I couldn’t help it: The sheer loss before me was staggering.

Each grave became a human being with a name, a personality, a childhood, hopes and dreams unfulfilled and a story never told. Thousands of them. At Arlington National Cemetery, some of the residents lived till old age. Most at Normandy never got their fair share.

On Monday, let us pause to remember what our dead from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan lost.

Some never fell in love. Some never saw their children grow up. Some knew an infant son or daughter only from a creased photo.

They missed it all, lifetimes of triumphs, setbacks and countless simple pleasures. They never grew old with anyone.

Let us recognize their sacrifices, and the courage within them as they faced the prospect of dying to carry out their duties. I wish people wouldn’t say military personnel “gave” their lives; there was nothing willing about it. Those lives were taken. Semantics aside, however, I understand and share the respect being expressed.

This Memorial Day, as in years past, I’ll also think of the living.

If you’re so inclined, join me in saying a prayer for the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses and children visiting graves Monday with flowers in hand and permanent holes inside.

Say one for the veterans still mourning slain friends — and perhaps wondering why they made it home in place of their comrades.

Should you have the chance on Memorial Day to ask someone about their loved one lost in action, don’t be afraid. In my career, I’ve talked to grieving families with scrapbooks and photos spread out around us. They were eager, not reluctant, to reminisce. Their spouse or child wasn’t forgotten. Somebody else would know what made the person special, what the world was missing.

Those conversations were the greatest honor I could give.

Chris Rosenblum writes about local people, places and events. Please send story ideas to chrisrosenblum@comcast.net.

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