The upcoming Memorial Day holiday, now observed on the fourth Monday in May, but originally on  May 30, is an opportunity to recognize the veterans of our armed services. This day of observance arose out of the Civil War and the practice of decorating the graves of the dead from that war. Hence the designation of “Decoration Day”, replaced by the current term unofficially after World War II, until becoming law in 1967.

Today the observance seems to make little distinction between veterans who served, with or without combat experience, and those whose lives were sacrificed on the battlefield. In other words, it is a duplication of Veterans Day, itself an evolution from its purpose of marking the Armistice that ended hostilities in World War I.

So be it.

Now one finds expression of thanks to our veterans in newspaper ads, in public speeches, or posts on social networking sites such as Facebook.

I maintain that treating Memorial Day as a  generic opportunity to express gratitude for those who populate our military forces and the sacrifices they make, whether the ultimate or not, ill serves our nation.

Lest anyone believe I have anything against these soldiers and sailors, I refer you to my recent entry in this space in which I spoke of four awardees of the Congressional Medal of Honor whom I admire deeply.

Nor do I deny the problems encumbering returning veterans ranging from joblessness to homelessness to rehabilitation from losing limbs to reliving,  in their every night dreams, the violence they witnessed. By all means strive to help them deal with these issues and hold our government accountable when it fails, as it too often does, to hold up its end of the bargain that drew them to don the uniform in the first place.

And a warm welcome home and a “thanks for your service” is never out of place, even if you despise the politics that placed them in danger.

The problem, as I see it, is that there has not been any military engagement participated in by U.S. forces since the end of WW II which occurred because there was any actual threat to or reasonable expectations of any threat to this nation’s liberty and security.

Yet we have sent over 100,000 of our fine troops to die with at least initial huge public support for putting them in harm’s way. Eventually those on the home front wanted our boys home from Korea and those on the home front demonstrated in the millions to bring our boys home from Vietnam at any cost. And no parades were held to welcome them, no spontaneous celebrations erupted.

There were even stories about returning Vietnam vets being spat upon or worse.

Our collective guilt at this mistreatment/lack of public recognition fomented.

Then we began a series of foreign assaults and invasions with our now all volunteer armed forces. We had no draftees compelled to kill. Now we could brag we were sending no one to war against their expectations and will, only those who freely accepted the idea of serving in combat.

We even had an increasing number of females joining the ranks not only of the volunteers, but among those dying or maimed.

Meanwhile the 99.5% of Americans not involved could comfort ourselves with offering platitudes to the uniformed 0.5% who performed our dirty work as we maintained our lifestyles with no disruption; not the rationing of scarce goods, not the dark cloud of a potential draft hovering over us and not compelled to pay for these misadventures  with increased taxes.

But, let anyone speak out against these unnecessary wars or criticize the despicable politicians who committed our country’s resources to them, and they were accused of not supporting the troops.The cowardly populace that allowed themselves to believe tales of bogeymen wouldn’t tolerate the truth that would expose their foolishness in granting blind acceptance to these killing missions.

So we rush to give thanks to those who perform the thankless tasks.

In that way we abdicate our own responsibility for being the enablers permitting our government to so easily commit these missteps.

If we are to observe Memorial Day at all, let us not turn it into a trite and meaningless thank you for anyone who has worn a uniform.

Instead visit the graves of those who returned from armed conflict in body bags or coffins and resolve with the utmost dedication and determination that we will not allow craven politicians to add to their number.

In that way, we will…at last…give the last full measure of gratitude to those interred in our soil and in the soil of far away lands where the bullet that had their name on it finally found its mark.

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  • Rich  On May 27, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    I like the point at the end that returns the day to the true memorial of Decoration Day. Changing to a Monday and therefore a 3 day holiday weekend seems to honor no one.

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