When I was a kid growing up in the 60s in a tiny town in the Midwest, Memorial Day (we called it Decoration Day then) was a very big deal. Schools were out, of course, and practically the whole town turned out for the parade and speeches in the city park, and the inevitable reading of “In Flanders Fields.” Stores were closed. It wasn’t a day for sales and sidewalk spectaculars. You couldn’t even buy a carton of milk. Nobody thought of it as a vacation day.
It was common to see tears on many cheeks. Several had lost husbands or brothers or cousins in World War II or Korea. Some of the older ones had experienced the losses of World War I. My mother had a difficult time: my oldest brother was in Viet Nam during one of those Decoration Days. My dad, a decorated World War II Marine veteran, had much to remember. He’d seen the horrors of battle up close and been fortunate enough to survive his injuries.
Today, fewer of us Americans are personally touched by war. At no time in our nation’s history has a smaller percentage of Americans lost their lives in armed conflict. I think that’s why many of us don’t give Memorial Day the attention it used to get. Please understand: I’m not implying that war and its results today are less tragic or horrific than they used to be. I’m merely making a statistical observation. Most of us don’t know anybody personally who has died in combat.
That was hardly the case in the beginning. When Decoration Day was first observed just a few years after the conclusion of the Civil War, nearly everybody had lost either a family member or a close friend in the war. In that four-year war, 620,000 soldiers were killed, and in a nation of only 31.4 million people. Not wounded or made homeless. Killed. There was indeed much to memorialize, and much to heal.
The vast majority of us today don’t have the same kind of memories as did the families who experienced the Civil War, the World Wars, or even the Vietnam War. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about the needs of the people who serve our country now or who served in the past.
Perhaps we can observe Memorial Day somewhat differently today. I encourage you to check out two of the charitable organizations supported by TisBest Philanthropy. The Paralyzed Veterans of America (www.SupportVeterans.org) provides Veterans suffering spinal cord injuries with advocacy, legal services, healthcare access, and recreational activities. Soldiers’ Angels (www.SoldiersAngels.org) provides care packages, outreach, and other comforts to active soldiers and military families. Perhaps we can remember and honor our nation’s fallen soldiers by helping today’s soldiers and veterans.
I trust that you’ll have a memorable weekend, and I hope you’ll take the time to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many in the service of this remarkable country.
Jon Siegel, Executive Director