Memorial Day has again come and gone and with it, the growing sense, we believe, that the holiday is experiencing a significant rebirth as Americans come to understand more clearly and in deeply personal ways, the sacrifices being made by our sons and daughters in uniform around the world and especially in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Over the weekend on radio, television and in the Boston newspapers, we listened to, watched or read stories about those who lost a loved one to those wars – and to all the wars.
Time and again, we heard the common refrain from the parents or loved ones who lost a child or a friend to war: “You can’t understand. You can’t know what it is like until you have buried one of your own.”
This implies that we can’t understand what Memorial Day really means until tragedy has hit home.
There is certainly an important and compelling truth to this. But for those of us experiencing the Memorial Day holiday without having to go to the cemetery or without attending memorial events, there is a natural distance between the experience for those who have suffered the ultimate loss.
Memorial Day 2012 was robust, colorful, somber and yet right on the mark here in Charlestown and throughout the Commonwealth.
There was a brief fuss over comments made by a broadcaster who said he didn’t believe all those who died on the battlefield had been heroes.
Those of us who understand history, who are moved by the sacrifices made by others on the battlefield so we can move about as we please without fearing for our lives in our neighborhoods, understand this: those who died on the battlefields throughout the ages were all heroes – whether they wanted to be or not – they were heroes. They remain heroes.
For those of us who came of age during the Vietnam War era, there is the widespread belief today that everyone who served and who died in that war was a hero who lived through hell, who died for their flag and country and who returned to disdain.
Not so today.
We understand what sacrifice is today better than in years before. Perhaps this is because the battlefield and its mayhem is brought home by television and the Internet and the modern belief expressed so well that sacrifice must be honored.
The nation didn’t exactly stop everything it was doing over the weekend but Memorial Day had a solemn ring to it and those who have died on the battlefield were honored.
These two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t the last. There will be more wars, more battlefield deaths and Memorial Days coming for an eternity.
In Pericles famous Funeral Oration, he gives praise to the war dead without glorifying death or exaggerating heroism. The speech is the glorification of Athens achievements.
“That part of our history which tells of the military achievements, or the ready valor with which either we or our fathers stemmed the tide of foreign aggression, is a theme too familiar to my hearers to dwell upon,” Pericles said. “”The freedom we enjoy in our government extends to our ordinary life,” he added.
Pericles was on the mark then.
He would be on the mark today.