This week, Gawker released an article entitled, On Memorial Day, Don’t Let Living Veterans Steal Glory From the Dead, with a cover photo of Arlington Cemetery, and the headline, “It’s Not Your Day Gramps.” The visual, and the article itself, gives a not-so-subtle one-fingered salute to our living veterans. After all, nothing says “thank you for your service” like telling them to shut-up on Memorial Day because they had the good fortune to survive the war. Ken Layne, the author of the piece, directs them accordingly:
Unless you are currently in the ground, it’s not for you. Celebrate, sure! Buy something, by all means! But please don’t divert attention from the honored dead. And if you survive to see another Veterans Day—wouldn’t that be great, for you and your loved ones?—we’ll be there on November 11, Veterans Day 2013, with flags waving! Hang in there. Even Santa Claus needs to keep a low profile in the summer.
To be fair to one of the more offensive articles I’ve read since the last time I mistakenly viewed a Gawker site, Memorial Day is designated to pay remembrance to those who have died in service to the United States. Mr. Layne references how Southern women began celebrating Decoration Day to visit, do upkeep, and leave flags and flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers. A reminder that even though they were gone, they were not forgotten. It evolved from there, though Mr. Layne neglects to reference that in his ongoing slap at the South, when in 1868 General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, decreed flowers to be placed upon graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. It wasn’t until 1971(not 1968 Mr. Layne) that it became the Federal holiday to honor all fallen soldiers of all American wars.
As Mr. Layne points out, Veterans Day (which is for both living and fallen Vets) is when it’s fine for Gramps to sit back and tell his war stories. But here’s the rub, and the point that Gawker and Mr. Layne missed entirely. Yes he’s correct in saying that Memorial Day has come to be more about BBQ’s and opening the pool, and that most Americans aren’t even thinking about our fallen troops. Maybe some will tune in for orchestration and fireworks over the Mall in DC, or put up their bunting and flags, but few will take the time to remember why they have the day off. Few, like Mr. Layne’s callousness implies, will even care, because due to the sacrifices of our soldiers, we have been granted the freedom to take them for granted. Mr. Layne has the right to offend our veterans (even while pretending he’s not) because of the blood they and those who came before them voluntarily gave.
Who though, is better equipped to help us remember our fallen, than those who watched them fall? Our veterans, particularly our newly minted ones from Afghanistan and Iraq, can tell us of the courage and sacrifice of those who gave their lives. Since when did not dying for our nation make our military personnel’s service any less worthy of memoriam? What of our soldiers who were wounded, both mentally and physically, who will spend the rest of their lives in the aftermath of the war? Will you tell them it’s “not Alive Veterans Day?” Furthermore, as you were calling for the media to forget about them, did you stop to think that this Memorial Day is also a time for our veterans to mourn their fallen brothers and sisters in arms?
Admittedly, perhaps I am more sentimental toward our soldiers than others. My family on my mother’s side has fought in every war starting with James Creswell in the American Revolution to my grandfather in Korea. My paternal grandfather fought in the Northern Atlantic, North African, and Pacific Theaters during World War II, and was on three separate torpedoed battleships. I grew up on war stories, war books, and war movies. My parents never failed to stop and thank a soldier when they came across them. I’ve never been allowed to forget that our freedom has never been free.
The last time I saw my grandfather, we discussed a book I was reading about World War I. It jolted his failing memory to recall being a young boy visiting his uncle who served in the Great War, and lived the rest of his life in a hospital. As a small child he didn’t understand the smell that clung to his uncle or why he was permanently wrapped in bandages. He later learned that his uncle had been in the trenches during the mustard and chlorine gas attacks; that the terrible odor was his skin steadily rotting. It was a horrifying story, but it helped turn what was previously a gravestone, an unremarkable name in the family tree, into a living person who spent the rest of his life dealing with the atrocities of war. Would you have told him “it’s unpatriotic and morally wrong” if the “lamestream media” had profiled him on Memorial Day, Mr. Layne?
The United States has been more fortunate than most of the rest of the world in that comparatively, we have not lost nearly as many soldiers in conflict. That does not make the cost of the lives we have lost, any less valuable. It’s not about numbers, despite Mr. Layne’s rambling rant about the Civil War and its figures, but if you’re curious about them you can find them here, here, and here. Take a look at the numbers, particularly the ones in conflicts we don’t often think about, and then remember our veterans who live every day with the memory of those casualties. Stopping to take a moment of silence at 3PM today (Remember Memorial Day), in memoriam for all who have served, is hardly asking much.
Today I hope that while you’re enjoying your much deserved day off, you ignore Mr. Layne’s advice that:
It is “okay” to exclude living veterans from your parties and trips to Mattress Land.
Instead, take a moment and ask Gramps, your brother, sister, spouse, neighbor, friend, co-worker, father, mother or any of the veterans and soldiers you know, to tell you what this day means to them.
Photo by Jano Silva Photography