What are you going to do this Memorial Day weekend? Out of towning, hiking, beach-bumming, hot dog eating, kite flying, sweater knitting? Who cares, do whatever you want, it’s a 3-day weekend.
How about some memorializing while your face is stuffed with potato salad? Maybe even a eugoogily? If you don’t get that Zoolander reference then you’ve made Ben Stiller cry. And we don’t like seeing Ben Stiller cry, so make sure you watch Zoolander at some point in these 3 days of freedom.
Admittedly, I was half joking about the utter excitement of the 3-day weekend filled with kite flying hot dogs. I love a 3-day weekend as much as anyone, but I think the hype around Memorial Day weekend is a bit out-of-control and has rolled a smidge off track. The big chain stores always have some kind of Memorial Day sale, and we all plan parties on Sundays because for once we don’t have to worry about work on Monday. You can spend that Monday nursing a hangover instead if you want to.
But if JCPenny didn’t tell you on the weekend sale commercial, the purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who served in the United States Armed Forces. Specifically it is for those who died while in service. So why is it when I Google “Memorial Day,” the top 5 searches retrieved regard rooftop pool parties, vacation planning, and local to-dos such as farmer’s markets, more drunken parties, and giant store specials?
That’s kinda fucked up.
I don’t personally know anyone who died in battle, as in, I’ve shaken their hand and heard them say, “how do you do,” only later to learn of their death in combat. I have a great uncle who died in Pearl Harbor (1941). Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet him, so that’s as close as I get.
So for me on Memorial Day, I have to dig a little deeper to get to the memorializing. I do think about my uncle and wonder what exactly happened…according to my Dad he was a pilot and was shot down in air, but I don’t even know if American planes were up yet since it was an ambush? Maybe he reacted quickly. Or maybe he was going for a swim with a Hawaiian cutie, but the family didn’t like that story so they put him in a plane. Nonetheless, the details are hazy and I instead reflect on his bravery for even being there.
The biggest memory I now return to for Memorial Day, however, is when I was in Europe a couple years ago and went to Luxembourg. There is a large military cemetery there where General Patton is buried, aptly named Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. Visiting that memorial was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and the second time that I’ve cried in a military cemetery, the first being my father’s funeral.
We had toured a few different sites of World War II, but this was something different. The soil was given to us from the Luxembourgers and is officially a plot of American land. So naturally we joked on the lines at the gate, one foot on either side, “Now I’m in Europe! Now I’m in the US! Europe! US!”
But reading about the war plan, how Hitler really did fucking take over Europe, and how desperate the situation was, gave me goose-bumps for the duration of my time there. Walking around from grave stone to monument to grave stone, you could literally feel the powerful strength these soldiers had as they gave their lives to thwart the forces of evil.
And that’s what Memorial Day is about. We all like to try and somehow relate to ourselves, our families and puff up our own pride with what we have done. But Memorial Day has absolutely nothing to do with us who aren’t dead from fighting in a war. It has everything to do with those whose lives were cut short, whether they believed in the cause or not, and paid the ultimate price to fight for our country.
Memorial Day is important America. Even if you are anti-war, guns, or think that we could just have a conversation with our enemies and things would be alright, sometimes fighting is necessary. WWII is a perfect reminder of that. In 1944, concentration camps were ramping up to be an even more effective form of genocide, as that was when they installed organized gas chambers and ovens to fucking incinerate human beings on a massive scale. That was when the Battle of the Bulge occurred and one of the biggest turning points of the war. On the very soil I stood, 5,000+ American soldiers remains are buried there, most of whom died in that important battle.
What would have happened if General Patton and his army didn’t march in and kick some ass? I don’t even want to play that game. The game I will play is one of gratitude and solemnly consider the circumstances under which they fought. And with that, thank you to God for our military. Thank you to our Vets – I am so happy you are still here with us. Thank you to the men and women who died in battle, who starved, froze, were shot or stabbed to death fighting for my country. I wouldn’t have the life I have without you, and I am absolutely grateful for your service.
Thank you. I salute you. RIP.