We were a crew of sailors and Marines, milling about, waiting to participate in downtown Denver’s Memorial Day Parade. A bunch of kids in "A" school (first training school in military lingo) wishing we were back in our racks sleeping instead of squinting in the morning sun.
A Marine in the the uniform he’d worn in WWI walked the sidewalk in our direction, his step spry, his bearing proud, as it should be for a man able to wear his uniform after over fifty plus years. He stopped in front of our group, did a smart right face and saluted. No words. He didn’t need them. He moved on.
We sharpened up. That soldier had seen more of war, of life, and of service to this country than the whole crew of us could ever imagine, and he had paid us respect.
Memorial Day is more than the holiday heralding summer. It is a time when our nation reflects with gratitude on the sacrifice so many in uniform have made. Flags will be lowered to half-mast until noon and communities will be holding services and parades to honor our military.
But what can each of us do to keep the true meaning and spirit of Memorial Day alive? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Take partin the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm
Wherever you are, stop, and give a minute of your time for awareness or prayer.
2. Be a part of your community
Before firing up the barbeque, attend one of those parades or commemorative services. Most cities will hold concerts. If yours doesn’t, you will be able to catch the televised National Memorial Day Concert on Capitol Hill Sunday evening.
3. Purchase a poppy from a VFW member
They usually sell them for a donation in front of shopping centers. Tie a poppy to your purse or your lapel as a reminder to all of us that this isn’t just a day to find great deals on appliances.
4. Blast the Sousa
Make a patriotic music playlist and hang the red, white, and blue. This is the day to fly our nation’s flag but don’t stint on the bunting either.
5. Keep your family’s personal military history alive
Over the picnic table, share stories of family members who served this country. Wearing the uniform calls for sacrifice but it is also an amazing adventure and one that deserves to be documented. If you have someone willing to reminiscence, turn on a recorder or jot down notes. Don’t let your family’s story disappear into the murky haze of memory.
6. If you are a Veteran, please, take a moment to write your own history
Some experiences you may not feel willing to share but as time passes, your perspective might change and we, as a nation, can gain from your insight. Plus, those service ribbons and commendations and the insignias that you earned—gather them up and please keep them safe. Digitizing letters written during that time or photos might not be a bad idea either.
7. Donate to a charity that supports our military in ways our government doesn’t.
A good list with information and ratings as to the effectiveness of the charity is at Charity Navigator.
If you feel called to do more, consider helping the USO in its mission to help active duty personnel and their families. The VA Hospitals also always need volunteers. For more information, you can contact the USO here. You can learn more about volunteering at your local VA Hospital at http://www.volunteer.va.gov.
Cathy Maxwell believes love is so important, she devotes her writing to it. She is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty historical romances. She also enjoys penning pieces for FoxNews.com. Click here to order her latest novel, "The Match of the Century." Fans can contact Cathy at www.cathymaxwell.com.
Who is a hero? In today’s America, it is someone who chooses a military career, puts on a uniform, and prepares for war. Placing soldiers and veterans on this kind of pedestal is a relatively new phenomenon. Past generations of Americans saw soldiers as ordinary human beings. They were like the rest of us: big and small, smart and dumb, capable of good and bad choices. Now we pretend they are demi-gods.
One reason Americans have come to view soldiers as our only protectors is that we have accepted the idea that our country is under permanent threat from fanatics who want to kill us and destroy our way of life. Yet we also felt this way at the height of the Cold War, and we did not fetishize soldiers then the way we do now. Perhaps that was because few were coming home in body bags.
Many were killed during the Vietnam War, though, and that did not move us to worship everyone who put on a uniform. We recognized, as all societies do, that some soldiers are true heroes — but because of their individual acts, not simply because they chose military careers. We are mature enough to know that a banker’s suit does not always reflect honesty and that a cleric’s robe may not cloak a pure soul. Yet we readily believe that the olive-green uniform automatically raises its wearer to saintly status.
At sports stadiums, many games now include a ceremony at which a uniformed “honor guard” marches in formation bearing ceremonial weapons. Then, during a break in the action, a soldier appears on the field or court, waving to the adoring crowd as an announcer recounts service in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the “war on terror.” These rituals feed the fantasy that military service turns one into a better, more selfless human being.
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To admire soldiers who have performed acts of bravery is fully justified. Not all combat heroes, however, are eager to stand before thousands of people and accept the honor they deserve. If we truly want to promote a positive form of hero-worship, we should not only abandon the idea that uniforms automatically transform ordinary people into giants. We should also recognize the other giants who protect and defend our society.
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American military engagement worldwide goes far beyond battlefields.
Our communities are full of everyday heroes. These are the nurses, schoolteachers, addiction counsellors, community organizers, social workers, coaches, probation officers, and other civilians who struggle to keep Americans from slipping toward despair, sickness, or violence. They guide people away from hopelessness and toward productive lives. Society collapses without these people. Yet we rarely give them the chance to acknowledge the gratitude of cheering multitudes. That honor is reserved for those whose individual merit may be limited to their choice — perhaps motivated by a variety of factors — to put on a uniform.
When soldiers were part of society, people recognized them as ordinary human beings. Now, with the emergence of the all-volunteer army, society has transferred the burden of war to a small, self-contained caste cut off from the American mainstream. This distance allows civilians to develop extravagant fantasies about soldiers that feed the militarist impulse. If we believe our soldiers are superheroes, it makes sense to send them to faraway battlefields to solve our perceived problems in the world. That is why, in this era of seemingly endless war, politicians, the defense industry, and even big-time sports compete with each other to promote hero-worship of soldiers and veterans.
This serves the cynical interests of those who, for political or business reasons, want to encourage American involvement in foreign wars. Even worse, it distracts attention away from the scandalous way we treat our veterans. Cheering for them in public and saluting them in cliché-ridden speeches is a way to disguise the fact that our society callously discards many of them. Shocking rates of unemployment, mental illness, homelessness, addiction, and suicide among our veterans constitute a national disgrace. It is far easier, however, to spend a few seconds applauding a smiling soldier than to contemplate a troubled veteran left behind by an uncaring country.
The soldier acknowledging cheers at a ball game is a fantasy figure we can easily admire. Veterans in need are more disturbing, so we keep them invisible. If we truly considered our uniformed fighters heroic, we would show them real gratitude rather than the phony kind that gives us a shiver of momentary pride but does them little good.
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