The Ole Seagull: The true purpose of Memorial Day

By Gary Groman, a.k.a. The Ole Seagull

The purpose of the original Memorial Day was to honor those who died in the Civil War. Today it’s remembering and honoring all who have been killed in the service of our country. Is there a better way to do that than to honor and remember their living “comrades,” those men and women who have and are currently honorably serving in America’s Armed Forces?

Someone a lot wiser than an Ole Seagull said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Since our country’s earliest days, America’s Armed Forces, and their families, have paid the price for the privileges and freedoms we all enjoy and sometimes take for granted. Memorial Day offers a unique opportunity to reflect upon that price and honor those who have paid it.

The very act of going into the Armed Forces puts one’s life at risk. Immediately upon being “sworn in,” members of the Armed Forces have given control of their lives to their military and governmental leaders. It is a control that is absolute and, from an honor point of view, irrevocable.

That control could be exercised in various ways. In combat, it could be through an order “to take that hill,” in the face of withering machine gun or mortar fire, to patrol a neighborhood in Baghdad, or to assault a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan. In a non-combat support position, it could be an order to serve in a supply depot, training facility, or hospital thousands of miles away from the battle. Regardless of where or how one serves, the risk to their life is an inherent part of the oath they swore.

History records it’s the politicians, and those in power, who start wars and that it is the men and women of their Armed Forces and their families who pay the price of those wars. It is a price paid in separation, stress, blood, suffering, anguish, physical and mental injury, and sometimes death.

Theirs is not to judge whether the politicians and powerful are risking their lives in a noble or just cause. Theirs is to do their sworn duty. Some have served in conflicts that were “popular” such as World Wars I and II and Desert Storm. Others in conflicts that were not as “popular,” such as Korea and Vietnam. Through it all, however, the men and women of America’s Armed Forces and their families have done their duty, sacrificed, and given unstintingly of themselves.

The eloquent words of William James remind us that “No matter what a man’s frailties otherwise may be, if he be willing to risk death, in the service he has chosen, that fact consecrates him forever.” From our country’s beginning, the members of its Armed Forces and their families have assumed that risk and done their duty. It is they who have ensured that a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

For that, we owe those who have served and are currently serving, in the Armed Forces, our undying gratitude, honor, respect, and support. Not only on Memorial Day but, every day that we, as a nation, enjoy the fruits of their efforts, sacrifices, and service.

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