Memorial Day, 2020

Like so much else about our society in these challenging days of Covid-19, Memorial Day celebrations in 2020 will no doubt be cut short from the usual practices. There will be no Indy 500 with the solemn pre-race tapping in honor of our American war dead. Some cemeteries may be decorated with American flags over the graves of veterans, but probably not as much as in years past. Churches that choose to pay tribute to those who gave the last full measure will likely do so via video conference. Social media will have its Memorial Day moment, to be sure, most of them well-intentioned and sincere, some as bland and irrelevant as those who post them.

In any case, who could have foreseen that during the spring of 2020, more Americans would be claimed by the coronavirus in these few weeks than were killed in action in Vietnam in more than a decade? It is a distressing situation, this vicious disease, fraught with uncertainty and fear and, for some, utter despair. It is a challenge that will demand the best of us, from the patience and determination of our citizens and trained first responders to leadership at all levels of government. The creativity and flexibility of our free enterprise system will also be critical in the coming months, as it was during World War II.

It is not a cliché to say that our current situation is yet another in a long list of crises this nation has faced. Because it is. Progress may be slower and less linear than we’d prefer, and the toll on lives will continue, but we’ll get through it somehow, we always do.

So is there a connection between our war dead and the current crisis?

Yes, for sure.

More than a million members of the US military have been killed in action in this nation’s wars. They are buried throughout the United States and in foreign cemeteries, especially in Europe. They were from small towns and big cities. Some had wealth and privilege while many others had very little. Some had worked on farms or in factories or had been public school students or teachers. Some were married while others had just begun to shave. Some were seasoned military professionals, while others were upset about the Boston Massacre or Fort Sumter or Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and wanted to strike back. Most, however, intended to do their part in uniform to the best of their ability and then go home.

These are different times, even beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. Less than one percent of the US population is serving in the military. Therefore, most American families have little or no connection to the military. Many of those family members have never even had a friendship with someone who is serving or has served in uniform. There is a disconnect that creates a social divide as military men and women serve and sometimes die while the nation at large barely notices. The burden falls on the precious few, and it is a heavier burden. Several universities have created safe spaces on campus where the snowflake students in their midst can avoid being offended by the “microaggression” of a sideways glance. Don’t look for them on Parris Island any time soon. Different times, actually.

Let’s go back to the connection between our war dead and the current crisis. What is?

Well, it’s in the fact that many of us feel like we’re facing real life-or-death circumstances for perhaps the first time in our lives. And it’s not nice. Our war dead faced those feelings, albeit much more intensely, in the dangerous existence they found.

It is in feeling the temporary loss of personal freedom either by edict or by a penchant for self-preservation, or both. And few of us like it, temporary or not. On a larger level, the idea of ​​freedom was important to our war dead, so they were willing to die to ensure their survival. Truth be told, more than a million did.

And it’s in knowing that, in the end, so aptly described in James 4:14, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” Our war dead understood perhaps more deeply than anyone how fragile and fleeting human life is. And how small (and sometimes helpless) we really are in the workings of the world.

So think of them this weekend, our American war dead. We are connected, whether we realize it or not, as fellow citizens, as human beings. They deserve a place in our collective memory. They deserve our respect and admiration.

For the most part, however, they deserve our eternal gratitude.

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