Over the past 16 years I have written this newsletter, I haven’t previously published a special Memorial Day edition. Perhaps that is because so many others publish on the meaning of various holidays or maybe because I’ve never written on the day itself. Today is different, however.
As I write this, it is early on May 31, 2021, the final Monday of the month and a day intended to remember and honor American service men and women who lost their lives defending our country. According to Wikipedia, that number stands at more than 666,441 combat related casualties; that number more than doubles when counting deaths due to non-combat related activities. Among the statistics, WW II stands out as the greatest number of combat deaths at 291,557 and the US Civil War stands out as the greatest number of total deaths at over 655,000.
Growing up, the day seemed to have more solemnity than it does now. While I don’t have a direct relative lost in service (somewhat surprising given that my father and most of my uncles served in World War II) the day was always marked by trips to the cemetery to trim grass, pull weeds, wash headstones and plant flowers of relatives who had gone before. As a child, I didn’t fully appreciate this activity and viewed it as a chore even though many of my friends were doing the same.
While the country is imperfect and seems more divided than ever, it’s certainly not as divided as during the Civil War at which time we lost nearly 2.1% of the US population to the conflict. To put that into perspective, that is more than 10x the percentage lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the nation is imperfect, think about all we have accomplished and the sacrifice of so many in both the building and defense of the United States. At times, looking just at the state of the union today, it is easy to focus on problems. Looking at the path we have traveled, imperfect as it might have been, provides hope for the future.
As you go about your Memorial Day, I hope you will take time to visit a national cemetery, straighten a flag (as I did while I walked the dog this morning), recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or simply reflect on the history that brought us to 2021 and the meaning behind the day.
Wishing you a joyful yet thoughtful Memorial Day.
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