How can we better honor our vets on Memorial Day?

Summary: Some thoughts about Memorial Day about ways we can honor the sacrifices made by our veterans, past and present. After 150 years of frequent wars, perhaps we need to up our game as the total of dead increases.

Origin of the Memorial Day holiday

The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans who served in the American Civil War. Here is their General Order No.11, issued on 5 May 1868:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

For 16 years I have led Boy Scouts on Memorial Day to plant flags on graves. That’s an appropriate thing for children to do. But the US has been at war much of the past 150 years, and that’s no longer sufficient for its citizens. The toll of the crippled and dead have grown too long. We should redefine our obligations to our veterans, living and dead.

Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day

(1) Support our troops

Flowers are nice. Donations or volunteering show your support for our troops in a more useful way. Here are two organizations that provide valuable support to our troops.

(2)  Force Congress to better fund care for Veterans

There is no excuse for underfunding care for veterans. As they come home this problem will grow more serious.  Fix it now.

(3)  Hire a veteran

Lots of men and women leaving the service now that our wars wind down and DoD’s mad overfunding gets cut. Give them a helping hand.

(4)  Stop our vain wars

Let’s add no more chapters to American history describing wars that did nothing for America, like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It’s a democracy. We bear full responsibility, collectively, for sending our troops into harm’s way — for what they do, and what happens to them.

Inspirational, but a bad basis for foreign policy

Fate has given America — for a time — “the fateful lighting of His terrible swift sword”. We have the obligation to wield it wisely. Increasingly since 1960 we have used our force for trivial, evil or mad reasons. For partisan political advantage, to reshape other peoples in our image (for their own good), and to support and increase US power.

You might believe that we have no obligation for proper use of the military, to our forefathers or to the other people of the world. What about the men and women fighting our wars? We recruit them to defend the nation. To deploy them for other reasons is to betray that bargain. Perhaps we should create a force of mercs to fight our venal foreign wars, as France has in the Foreign Legion and Britain in the Brigade of Gurkas.

John Quincy Adams gave us sound advice in his speech at the House of Representatives on 4 July 1821:

… if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world… should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America … has held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

  • She has uniformly spoken among them … the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
  • She has … respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
  • She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings …

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.

For another perspective about Memorial Day

See last year’s post for another perspective worth remembering: A thought for and about Memorial Day.

Something else to ponder on Memorial Day

Performed by the US Army Chorus accompanied by the US Army Band; from the CD “The Flag Flies High”:


8 thoughts on “How can we better honor our vets on Memorial Day?”

  1. Too simplistic.
    Iraq, and several of the others did something for the US. The problem is the duration/cost. Wars have a shelf life. Note the lengths of the Civil War, WWI and WWII. Notice a pattern?

    The others, that are noted as “failures” would be successes if ended after a similar time.

    Think again.

    I enjoy your blog.

  2. An interesting question. Here, in Australia, we remember the sacrifices made by veterans on our behalf by ANZAC Day. ANZAC stems from the Australian New Zealand Army Corps which took part in the WW1 landing at Gallipoli and subsequent battles with the determined Turkish defenders.
    Although the campaign failed to control the Dardanelles it served to establish the ANZAC tradition of remembrance.
    On this day, April 25th., remembrance starts with dawn services in pretty much every city and town across the continent. Much to the chagrin of our more “progressive” commentators, ANZAC day has grown into a major public event, involving school ceremonies and marches by veterans from all conflicts where Australians took part.
    Maybe a similar form of ceremony to honour America’s Veterans can be created, provided of course that the Left can be rendered neutered by the term “remembrance” being the underlying theme.
    All the best to you from OZ
    Dave Sivyer
    Narrogin, Western Australia.

    1. Thank you for the info on Oz’s version of this day.

      One detail about America: The US has gone a long way towards militarization since the 1970s. The Left is no longer overtly anti-military, and certainly does not oppose Memorial Fay activities. For example, the military are by far the most esteemed and trusted institution (followed by police).

      We are ready to take he next step on this dark road.

      1. That is interesting!

        I have heard the opposite from people visiting Europe.

        Does anyone have any observations from the rest of the world?

  3. Nice post, FM. I assume the following is a typo: “show your support for sour troops in a more useful way”

    Although I’d be pretty sour by now if I was one of those soldiers.

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