The other day my sister Margie sent me a link to a video that relates to Memorial Day. The pictures are of the sort that you would expect on a video commemorating this day. The words were drawn from President Reagan’s first inaugural address.
As it happens, I never had the chance to hear those great words as they were being spoken. At the time, I was in the Air Force, and as a very small part of the Nuclear Triad, I was standing alert that day. Within moments after President Reagan finished taking the oath of office, we had a klaxon, so as my new Commander-in-Chief was speaking, I was sprinting across the tarmac to get our EC135C Command Post in the air…
That day seems so long ago, but it is easy to remember the optimism that was in the air. After 4 disastrous years of Jimmy Carter that saw an oil embargo, double-digit interest rates, out of control inflation, 444 days of Iran holding 52 American diplomats hostage, and a botched rescue attempt that resulted in the deaths of 8 servicemen, the nation needed hope, and President Reagan delivered, in aces!
But that bit of historical context isn’t what this post is about. Context helps set the stage, but is not, really the point. The point is, “Why?” Why Memorial Day? Why did young men and women in the prime of their lives give it all up for … well for what?
I think that part of the problem with where we are today (not just in the US, but worldwide) is that we live in a culture where it is necessary to even ask the question. When I was young, the question was not necessary because everyone understood what was necessary for a free people to remain free.
Moreover, we understood that nothing was more important than freedom: Not politics, not power, not money, not property, not family, not health, not even life itself. For those of you younger than 40, it may be hard to imagine, but I assure you it is true. People did believe those things. Moreover, Arlington is real – as are the sprawling World War II cemeteries in France, Luxembourg and other places. Like some sort of macabre Disneyland attraction, the markers are not made of plastic and put out on the weekends so the tourists can take selfies.
[Which brings up an interesting question: does Germany have any World War II cemeteries to remember the lives of the good men and women who died thinking they were protecting their homeland? As President Reagan would point out in later years, in their own way they too were victims of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi).]
We live in a culture – again worldwide, not just the US – where love of one’s own country has somehow become racist. We live in a culture where self-sacrifice is seen as “stupid” or “a waste”. We live in a culture where asking for sacrifice in the name of freedom is seen as despicable, selfish, or even psychopathic. We live in a culture where “every life is important,” but murder is openly condoned and even promoted in the form of assisted suicide and abortion. And then there is the panic around this virus which – when properly managed – has a survival rate greater than 99%. Unfortunately, anything less than 100% has become unacceptable, for this disease at least.
The truth is that we live in a culture where Memorial Day (or the comparable holiday in your country) seems rather pointless. These holidays celebrate an ethos or worldview that is (at best) passé or quaint. While we rightly call doctors and nurses dealing with the pandemic “heroes” I have also heard that label applied to pizza delivery drivers. About the only thing to be said for today’s culture is that (for the “spiritual”) it is a lot more convenient. In years past, to see God you had to become a hermit, or spend years in meditation and contemplation. Now all many people have to do is look in a mirror.
However, all is not darkness. Years ago I went on a NATO exercise to Luxembourg. We were a small Air Force contingent with a Luxembourg officer serving as our liaison and interpreter. One day an old man came peddling his bicycle up the road. As he got near you could see that in the basket of his bicycle he had a bottle of wine and several glasses. The interpreter went and talked to him and when he came back he explained that the man had been a young boy when Luxembourg was liberated by Patton’s forces in WWII (which, by the way, included my Dad). So, every year on Liberation Day, he would go to the Allied cemetery there and put flowers on the graves of the men who died during the liberation. When he had heard that the “Americans were back” he had bought a bottle of wine, and he rode his bicycle to find us and thank us. As we drank the wine he poured for us, I told the man through the interpreter that my father had been in Patton’s army. The man hugged me and told me, “Tell your father, ‘Thank You,’ I still remember!”
All it takes is for people to really start remembering.
In Christ, Amen ☩
A prayer for when you are feeling forgetful…
“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for Your many gifts. But today I want to bless you especially for the gift of memory. Without memory we lose the benefits of our other blessings. Help me to always remember. Amen”