How should we honor our vets on Memorial Day?

Summary: How should we honor the sacrifices made by our veterans, past and present.? After 150 years of frequent wars, as the last of our troops return from Afghanistan, as the military begins the long post-war downsizing, we need to up our game. Memorial Day is the day to begin.

The price paid for our wars
The price of our wars



  1. Who started Memorial Day?
  2. Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day
  3. Another perspective on Memorial Day
  4. Something else to ponder on Memorial Day


(1)  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 led Cub Scouts and 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.

Blue Star Moms

(2)  Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day

(a) Support our troops


Flowers on graves are nice. But donations or volunteering show your support for our troops in a more useful way. Here are three organizations that provide valuable support to our troops.

(b) Force Congress to better fund care for Veterans

Veterans Administration

There is no excuse for underfunding care for veterans. As they come home this problem will grow more serious.  Fix it now. This has been a problem — well reported in the news for a decade. It’s in the news again. Unless we speak out it will be in the news again next year.

Our military leaders have proven that they care about funding for things — like the malfunctioning, insanely expensive F-35 — more than the people who fights our wars.

(c)  Hire a veteran

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

(d)  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. Now our government sends them to Africa, expanding the Africom footprint, as usual with a inchoate impulse such as that which created the British Empire — but without the profits.

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.

  1. She has uniformly spoken among them … the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
  2. She has … respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
  3. 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.

(3)  Another perspective on Memorial Day…

See the 2012 post for another perspective worth remembering: A thought for and about Memorial Day.

(4)  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”:



9 thoughts on “How should we honor our vets on Memorial Day?”

  1. Stranger in a Strange Land

    You said that “Increasingly since 1960 we have used our force (i.e., military forces) 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.”

    The truth is that this has been happening ever since the Mexican-American war fought in the 1840s (which, by the way, was the true origin of Memorial Day).

    Nearly every single war fought by the US since then has been fought in to seek Empire. The Indian wars, the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, etc., etc. etc. (Even the Civil War was fought to preserve the Empire, but at least at the same time it had a somewhat more noble purpose.)

    And, of course, many events that we don’t often think of as wars but were, nonetheless, militarily aggressive events that furthered the aims of the Empires. For example, the takeover of the Hawaiian Islands, the use of the Marshall Islands to test atomic and nuclear weapons after WWII, etc. etc., etc.

    So yes let us celebrate the sacrifices of our military veterans and those who died fighting our wars.

    But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that those sacrifices were made to defend our freedoms; they were made to defend our Empire, pure and simple!

    1. Stranger,

      I agree, and was not clear.

      War to increase economic and political power is the norm of history, everywhere and always. But our wars lack that rational base. Our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan had a common element: it was difficult to see the reasons we were there. There was no obvious connection between our actions and a post-bellum benefit (and indeed we got none).

      The earlier wars you mention were rational, and mostly profitable. We still enjoy Hawaii and the lands taken from the American Indians and Mexico, for example.

  2. Minor detail. Not all the veterans buried at the national cemeteries died in combat. My father’s remains were buried at Arlington recently, and he died of old age. Of the hundred of grave stones in that area of the cemetary, it did not appear that any were young enough to have likely been combat deaths. In any case , may all their souls abide forever in luminous transcendance. As well as those of those enemies and innocents that died in conflicts with the USA.

    1. Eric,

      Quite so. Mine too.

      The price is not just those lives lost in combat,
      or the lives blighted by physical or mental damage in combat,
      or the lives lost and injured during military service (in combat and as regular duty),
      but the sacrifice of time and energy up to and including those things by those who served.

      That’s what’s seen in our military cemeteries.

  3. At this late date, none of the gullible macho dupes who volunteer for America’s endless unwinnable foreign wars deserve our support.

    The American people need to start treating these pathetic grotesquely stupid pieces of cannon fodder with the contempt they deserve. Perhaps these ignorant undereducated impoverished 18-year-olds from America’s poorest southern states will wake up and get a clue and stop volunteering to get blown up by IEDs and brain-damaged by shrapnel to advance the cynical political ambitions of their thuggish leaders.

    In short, America needs to start treating America’s volunteer soldiers the way their leaders treat them:

    “Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” — Henry Kissinger

    Rule of thumb: whatever a society rewards, it gets more of. The more we reward these gullible chumps for volunteering to get their intestines shredded in some pointless foreign war by “honoring their service,” the more of these fools will volunteer. If the supply of volunteers dries up, the wars will stop. We need to stop rewarding their folly by heaping them with empty honors for their alleged “service” — which is actually not service at all, but an eagerness to be abused and manipulated by their cowardly incompetent elected leaders.

  4. Let us not get sidetracked here. Veterans Day -my day- is for veterans. Memorial Day is for our servicemen -Confederates included- who died in warfare.

    It should not be for us, nor anyone else, to distract us away from the respect that is due these men, by dwelling on the worthiness of the cause for which they made their sacrifice to this country.

  5. My view is probably well outside the mainstream.I have no objection to spending Memorial Day watching baseball and going to picnics. But, when “the nabobs of negativism” want to use Memorial day to pontificate about how malevolent were the motives of those who pursued war, or how gullible, naive, or stupid were the men who served, I must protest.

    I have one uncle buried at Arlington: a casualty of WW II (don’t know what battle). I have one distant relative (second cousin) buried near Salerno, Italy. He was killed by “friendly” fire parachuting onto the beaches there. My Great grandfather died fighting for the Confederacy under the command of Stonewall Jackson. (My Grandfater and uncle are both named after Stonewall Jackson -instead of their own kin- because of this.) I can’t figure how many generations ago it was, when one of my ancestors died in the service of Light Horse Harry Lee (Robert E. Lee’s father) and another fought at King’s Mountain during the Revolution. These men were “southern” and slaveholders; but they “gave the full measure of their devotion” to their cause and their country.

    I don’t want to read some pompous “crap” about bad wars and misplaced devotions on Memorial Day. There are 364 other days to chat about “wrong wars for wrong reasons”. You raised the question “How can we honor our fallen better on Memorial Day?” Leave the politics and ethics out of it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: