I’m a veteran, and I hate ‘Happy Memorial Day.’ Here’s why…
I have friends buried in a small corner of a rolling green field just down the road from the Pentagon. They’re permanently assigned to Section 60. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s 14 acres in the southeast corner of Arlington National Cemetery that serves as a burial ground for many military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are fresh graves there.
I spent my formative years in combat boots and all of my friends are in the military, were in the military, or married into the military. I have several friends buried at Arlington, and know of dozens more men and women interred in that hallowed ground.
Section 60 is a place I visit often.
I toyed with the idea of making the trip south from New York City this weekend to spend some time, reflect and sit quietly but decided against it. Some friend, huh?
Wednesday night, sitting in a pizza joint in the Bronx, watching the world go by, I was upset and couldn’t put my finger on why.
A friend said “Hey! Do you want to go to Fleet Week? It’s this weekend here in the city.”
What? No? Absolutely not. I don’t want to be in the midst of tens of thousands of people clamoring for a chance to look at a static display of Marine Corps and Navy equipment. I don’t want to see Marines and sailors dressed up, paraded around for community relations and recruiting purposes. I don’t want to watch any parades.
As I said it (barked it, really), my friend’s eyes widened and I recognized the frustration in my tone. I didn’t know why I was upset, at first. I paused, and while I was sitting there contemplating my outburst, I heard a commercial on the radio screaming through the tinny speakers.
“Beaches, beats and BBQs!” it said. “We’re your Memorial Day station with everything you need to kick off the summer in style!”
That’s when it hit me. I’m angry. I’ve come to realize people think Memorial Day is the official start of summer. It’s grilled meat, super-duper discounts, a day (or two) off work, beer, potato salad and porches draped in bunting.
But it shouldn’t be. It’s more than that.
Nearly 150 years ago, Memorial Day— first called Decoration Day— was set aside to decorate the graves of the men who’d recently died in battle. America was still reeling from the Civil War when Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation in 1868, according to a PBS account of his decision. “The 30th of May,” he declared, “would be an occasion to honor those who died in the conflict.” More