Guest contribution by our very own poet laureate, Captain George S. Harris:
LEST WE FORGET-MEMORIAL DAY 2017
It is just a few days past the day our own Civil War ended on May 9,1865-151 years ago. On that day, two great armies and two great leaders met at Appomattox, Virginia to begin the process of bringing our nation back together again. They were there to salve the wounds that four years of war had inflicted on its participants. Some 640,000 men, 2% of our population, were lost; the worst war we have ever been engaged in. A war that saw fathers against sons and brothers against brothers in a fight to the death. It was the hope of these two great leaders, General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee, that at last we would once again seek the path to the “perfect union” our founders sought some seventy-eight years earlier during several muggy weeks in the spring and fall of 1787 in Phildelphia.
Some who read this may remember when Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. It is a day set aside to decorate the graves of those military folks who lost their lives in service to our Nation. “Decoration Day or, if you prefer, Memorial Day, began shortly after our Civil War. There are several claims as to just when it began but decorating the graves of warriors has been around for many decades or perhaps centuries.
More than a million Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and almost all of them in two wars-our own Civil War and World War II. While we are now engaged in the longest war we have ever known, there are fewer deaths but many more have sustained what are often euphemistically referred to as “life alternating injuries”. These injuries run from simple wounds to multiple limb loss, paralysis, traumatic brain injury and what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This latter disorder has had many names in the past but it ultimately means the terrible impact war has on the minds and souls of our military personnel.
No one goes to war who doesn’t come back changed. It is not always easily recognized but for me and others who read these words, we know because we live with it every day of our lives. This is not some made up psycho-babble, it is a real, palpable thing. Most of us continue to live and work and carry out normal lives but others do not even to the point of destroying themselves by suicide.
We have to ask ourselves, “Will the day ever come when we will no longer have any new graves to decorate on Memorial Day? When will we have peace?” In a speech at American University on June 10, 1963, only a few months before his death by assassination, President John F. Kennedy said this about peace.
“I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”
This Memorial Day, more than 1,000 soldiers will place flags at more than 300,000 graves in the annual “Flags In” ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Lest we forget, this is the price of freedom for our great Nation.
God bless all those who have gone before and God bless the Untied States of America on this Memorial Day.
“Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams featured.