Memorial Day and the “National Moment of Remembrance”

I hope you’ll be enjoying Memorial Day with family and friends but I do hope you take a moment to remember the holiday’s purpose: it is a national observance on the last Monday in May to honor those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces,”   (As a quick refresher: Veterans Day – Nov. 11- is intended to honor all veterans). 

“Flags In” ceremony

The U.S., Army has a great website (found here) that explains the day, and offers “Ways to Honor our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day.”  It also discusses the fascinating “Flags In” tradition:

“Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” place American flags at every headstone for service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. Every available soldier in the Old Guard participates, along with members of other service branches.”

“They place small American flags in front of more than 260,000 headstones and at the bottom of about columbarium 7,000 niche rows. Each flag is inserted into the ground, exactly one boot length from the headstone’s base.”

Interestingly, the flags will be removed after Memorial Day but before the cemetery is opened to the public on Tuesday.

The Army also notes that there will be a Live Stream Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony presented by the National Veterans Memorial and Museum at 10 AM ET on YouTube @NationalVMM and Facebook at National Veterans Memorial and Museum FB.

In addition, the National Memorial Day Parade will take place at 2 pm (EDT) in Washington, DC, and it will be livecast to many areas access the country (including Raleigh-Durham) see here.  Memorial Day activities in the Durham area are found here.

You definitely will not want to miss the National Memorial Day Concert broadcast on PBS at 8 pm (EDT) on Sunday.  It is always very moving, and this year’s looks to be as awesome as ever.  (The recording is available online here)

The “National Moment of Remembrance”

In his annual proclamation, the President said:

In honor and recognition of all of our fallen service members, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950, as amended (36 U.S.C. 116), has requested that the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer and reflection. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe, in their own way, the National Moment of Remembrance.

What will you think about at that moment?  Because in our post-9/11 wars (and, really, all our wars) around 75% of those who died were age 30 or younger, I am reminded of President Ronald Reagan’s words:

“It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away.  The imagination plays a trick.  We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise.  We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired.”  

“But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived.  When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers.  They gave up their chance to be revered old men.  They gave up everything for our country, for us.  And all we can do is remember.”

General Frank McKenzie’s observations

In the aftermath of those post-9/11 conflicts some have questioned the sacrifice. In an April 2021 press conference General Frank McKenzie then the commander of U.S. Central Command (the military organization responsible for the Middle East) was asked whether the twenty plus years of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan were a failure. 

He answered by observing that “I would tell you the reason we went in, which was to protect, prevent attacks on the United States – there have been no attacks on the United States.’

He added some closing remarks that are very much worth contemplating this Memorial Day:

“So, you know recently I’ve been asked — and I was asked twice at the SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] today what I would tell someone who lost a child or husband or wife  in Afghanistan. 

So, I just want to tell you what I would tell them – and it would be this – that nothing I could say, no words of mine are equal to the task of comforting someone who’s lost a loved one at war. 

It would be in fact presumptuous of me to try to do that.  What few words I can offer, would attempt to tell those who have to deal with the empty seat at the table, the voice that will not be heard again, the missing laugh at the center of a gathering is this; we fought to protect our country and to give others a chance to choose their own destiny. 

There’s no better — higher thing to fight for. That’s why I went to war, that’s why my son went to war.  So, their loss I would say is not in vain.  In fact, I would reject that.  If I can paraphrase from Second Timothy, they fought the good fight, they finished their race and they kept the faith even into death. 

And so, I’ll close with a motto from my service, Semper Fidelis.

Closing thoughts

Enjoy the day, but please take some time — a “moment” anyway — to remember those who did what their country asked them to do and who, as General McKenzie so aptly put it, fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.  We owe them a debt we can never repay.



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