What do you suppose it means that I am ill and confined to bed on Decoration Day? You know, the holiday we now call Memorial Day? I used to feel very patriotic. I believed in singing the anthem and saying the pledge. I joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while because my wife is a true believer… and they tell me those things are un-Christian. And now that I can no longer claim to be in that religion any more… because I really don’t believe… Not that I don’t believe in God. I have evidence in my own life (they say that if you talk to God you are normal, but if He answers, you are either a prophet or a lunatic… and I am definitely no prophet). But I don’t believe in their God who calls the science of evolution a lie, and forbids blood transfusions that might save your life, and believes you will be denied eternal life if you don’t worship him in the correct manner… using the correct words. They don’t believe you can be one of the saved and also be a member of the armed services… and my eldest son is now serving in the Marine Corps.
Decoration Day was made a holiday in the 1860’s as a day to honor those Americans who had died in the service of their country. Not honoring all soldiers, mind you, honoring the soldiers who died. Over 600,000 of them died in the Civil War on both sides, and all of them were Americans. Honoring the dead became a way of life back then, a very prominent part of the culture. It was a holiday for putting flowers on graves. I don’t think it was a holiday meant to make us happy like Christmas, or thankful like Thanksgiving. I think it is supposed to help you remember… it is supposed to make you sad.
I lost a great uncle, my Grandma Beyer’s brother, in the Navy in WWII, although it was a training accident in a gun turret, not in battle… no purple heart. My mother lost a cousin in the Viet Nam conflict. Tommy Hinckley was a pilot who crashed and was lost. So I have reason enough already to be thinking about war and death without even mentioning my son. What other conclusion can I reach? War is a terrible, horrible thing. This holiday is not about war. But it is about soldiers. I hate war. But I love and respect soldiers. And I hate all war… even wars like WWII that had to be fought to prevent great evil. And I love all soldiers, even the ones we call our enemies, because they have made the choice to die to protect the things they believe in and the people they love. And it is a noble sacrifice even when it is made for the wrong reasons and serves stupid ends. And some of the soldiers, most of them, don’t die. They live to tell the story. And that is a story we need to hear.
But I am blue today. Not because I am feeling ill, which is a constant part of my life… but because soldiers die. Today is the day we are supposed to think about that… honor that sacrifice… and remember. And maybe we are supposed to be sad.