Pondering those who have left us
This hasn’t been an easy spring for those in charge of cemetery maintenance to ready them for today’s important observance of Memorial Day.
The persistent rainy conditions have greatly challenged the dedicated workers.
In most places, those maintenance workers do a tremendous job, and no doubt visitors to the cemeteries on this day will be appreciative of the workers’ efforts and embrace some sense of awe over what they were able to accomplish amid far-less-than-ideal conditions.
Of course, the Memorial Day holiday provides the opportunity for people also to remember family members and loved ones who didn’t die in the service of this country. Besides being punctuated by the flags that decorate veterans’ graves, cemeteries today will be graced with live flowers and other colorful displays.
Amid all of that, it must be remembered that Memorial Day should not be confused with the Nov. 11 Veterans Day observance, which celebrates the service of all U.S. veterans who served honorably on behalf of this nation’s well-being.
On last year’s Memorial Day weekend, Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow and classicist at the Hoover Institution, brought to the forefront a point that might be lost by many Americans whose observance of this holiday is centered on U.S. soil.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Hanson, who served briefly on the American Battle Monuments Commission, whose chief mission is custodianship of American military cemeteries abroad, presented the reminder that more than 125,000 American dead “rest in these serene parks, some 26 in 16 countries.”
As he also described, another 94,000 missing are commemorated by name only.
While Americans remember today those members of the armed forces who died during service to this country and subsequently were able to be interred within this country’s borders, people of this land must not forget those whose remains are thousands of miles away, either interred in a U.S. cemetery on foreign soil or lost amid some battlefield.
Today’s a day marked by patriotic parades, cemetery visits and family picnics, but it should not be a day when Americans fail to think deeply about the troubling events of the Civil War from which the holiday emanated and the wars since then that have reconfirmed the need for this observance.
As Victor Davis Hanson observed at this time last year, Abraham Lincoln and the Greek statesman and orator Pericles shared the belief that “democracies and republics will always be the natural targets of aggressors who see their freedom as weakness to be exploited rather than as magnanimity to be appreciated.”
As Americans today pause to remember, they also shouldn’t fail to ponder the future.