The true reason for Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, I’m already starting to see ads for sales on furniture and other deals–and I think that’s really saddening. Here are my thoughts on this day originally intended to honor fallen servicemen and women. I’ve lifted a column I wrote for my previous publication last year, since it still rings true today…

By now, you’ve probably seen at least one ad on TV promising a great Memorial Day sale, whether it’s for grills at Sears or curtains at JC Penny’s. Stores treat Memorial Day as the gateway to summer, flashing pictures of kids in bathing suits, marshmallows over campfires and juicy hamburgers. But rarely do they include pictures of the true reason for Memorial Day: flag-draped coffins, rows of pristine white gravestones and grieving military families.

To truly get into the Memorial Day spirit, you could always visit one of the dozens of American cemeteries dotting European countrysides, such as the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It was built as a place for the soldiers who died storming the beaches during the D-Day Invasion in World War II—more than 9,380 of them.

If Europe’s too far to go, you could visit Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Established in 1864, it’s home to more than 400,000 graves of service members and their family members. Not all of them died in combat, but they all served and sacrificed. While you’re there, swing by the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. and take a long look at the 4,048 gold stars filling one of the memorial’s walls. Each star represents 1,000 service members who died fighting—that’s more than 400,000 people killed preserving our freedom from 1939-1945.

You don’t even have to leave the state of Minnesota to see evidence of soldiers’ sacrifices. Fort Snelling National Cemetery up in Minneapolis is the final resting place of more than 172,000 service members and their families. Some of them were buried there after leaving the service, but others were transferred there after being killed in combat.

In fact, nearly 100 Minnesotan service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 11 years, with Lance Cpl. Caleb L. Erickson of Waseca losing his life in Afghanistan as recently as Feb. 28.

Recent statistics average American deaths in the Middle East to 50 service members per month.

Overall, more than 1,343,800 Americans have been killed in combat since the Revolutionary War.

That’s a big number, too big to fully understand. It falls into the realm of just another statistic: 1.4 million American service member casualties. But stop and think about it: That’s nearly half of everyone living in the Twin Cities, which have a combined population of about 3.3 million. And every one of those casualties left behind family and friends, people mourning their loss and living lives altered forever because of that service member’s decision to put his or her country first.

Memorial Day was established officially in 1967 as a day to honor our fallen, those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and security. When you think about it, it seems so inadequate—one day of the year to put flags on graves, one day to meditate on soldiers’ sacrifices.

To a young widow or a fatherless child, Memorial Day isn’t about saving 10 percent on a new sofa. To a lonely sister or grieving husband, Memorial Day isn’t about a three-day weekend. To heartbroken parents, Memorial Day isn’t about the start of summer vacation.

This Memorial Day, remember the real reason we set this day aside. Remember the sacrifices of those who gave up their lives so you could live yours in freedom. Remember our fallen heroes.

Grace Webb

Grace Webb

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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