Summary: Here are ways to make this a special Memorial Day. Not just another empty holiday, but a day that makes a difference to America.
Who gave us 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 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 planting flags should no longer suffice Americans. The toll of the crippled and dead have grown too long. We should redefine our obligations to our veterans, living and dead.
First, let’s remember the words Lincoln spoke on 19 November 1863 on a field at Gettysburg. They apply just as well to us today. Each generation of Americans faces a new challenge – and the burden of carrying America into a new generation.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Resolve to express your appreciation in other ways
“Our Veterans put everything on the line to protect our freedom. We may never be able to repay them for their sacrifice, but we can show them just how much we appreciate all that they’ve done. Everyone can do something to show Veterans know how much we appreciate their service. What will you do?” (From the Vet Admin.)
Help those in our armed forces, both active duty and veterans.
Donate to support the Blue Star Mothers of America.
From the Blue Star Mothers of America website, describing who they are and what they do…
“We are mothers who now have, or have had, children honorably serving in the military. We are a non-profit (501[c]3) service organization supporting each other and our children while promoting patriotism.
“The Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-political organization. We do not support any political candidate, nor do we endorse any religious organization. The military represents all aspects of America as does our organization.
“We provide support for active duty service personnel, promote patriotism, assist Veterans organizations, and are available to assist in homeland volunteer efforts to help our country remain strong. Blue Star Mothers volunteer in VA hospitals and outreach centers, helping with physical and emotional rehabilitation. We collect medical supplies, food, and clothing. We provide transportation and friendship.”
Help those in our armed forces, both active duty and veterans.
“The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. It provides programs and services at more than 180 locations worldwide. Whether they’re deployed to a war zone or stationed overseas, service members are only a request or a visit away from receiving a range of USO services: holiday care Packages, entertainment, Operation Phone Home®, and the USO Care Package Program.”
“Whether helping a soldier with a connecting flight, distributing a Care Package, serving snacks with a smile, providing local information, or ‘welcoming home’ troops from deployment, USO volunteers are vital to the success of the USO’s mission. For example, helping a group of tired young men and women at 1 am in the USO at Los Angeles airport, grateful for a place to relax, eat (free), and call home – hanging out for hours until their flight out.
“While the duties of a volunteer vary, the goal is always the same: to improve the quality of life for service members, to boost their morale, and to serve as the link between service members and the American people.”
If you are interested in becoming a USO volunteer, please visit the locations directory to contact the USO center nearest you.
Volunteer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These service agencies are there for our troops when they need help. When they’re traveling, on isolated bases (especially during holidays), when injured, when returned home with disabilities, and on a thousand other occasions. Supporting them is a great way to celebrate the sacrifice of those who died while serving in America’s armed forces. As the Vet Dept website says…
“Over 140,000 volunteers gave more than 11 million hours in service to America’s Veterans. It is impossible to calculate the amount of caring and sharing that these VAVS volunteers provide to Veteran patients. VAVS volunteers are a priceless asset to the Nation’s Veterans and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Help a veteran get a job.
See the Department of Labor’s website with resources for employers.
Force Congress to better fund care for Veterans.
There is no excuse for underfunding care for veterans. Many will require immediate care. Some will require long-term care. Persecuting the VA officials who attempt to spin gold from straw — making do with the inadequate dollars that Congress provides – does not help. Write your Representative and Senators! Tell them to adequately fund the VA now.
Stop our mad wars.
After 150 years of frequent wars, perhaps we need to up our game as the list of American dead grows longer. Not all the deeds done by our troops have been glorious, nor have all their missions been just or even good. But that is our responsibility, not theirs. America is a democracy. We bear the full responsibility, collectively, for sending our troops into harm’s way. We bear the responsibility for what they do and for what happens to them. Let’s end wars that do nothing for America’s security, like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Our troops pay the price for our folly.
Let’s remember the words of a great president: John Quincy Adams gave us sound advice about foreign interventions in his speech at the House of Representatives on 4 July 1821.
Let’s not have to build more monuments like this, unless we’re attacked.
For More Information
- Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.
- The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions.
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris.
Two books for good reading about our situation
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman. Let’s not add new chapters to the next version of this book.
Shakespeare’s Politics by Allan Bloom. Brilliant; only 138 pages but filled with fascinating insights.