I look over Facebook today, and I see post after post along the lines of, “Happy Memorial Day to all our men and women in the armed forces.” Which is a fine sentiment, except it totally misses the point of what Memorial Day is supposed to be. It’s not there for those currently serving. It’s not there for the veterans. It’s not for anyone who’s still drawing breath on this planet. The idea is to honor those who gave their lives while serving in the U.S. armed forces. And it feels like that meaning is getting lost in the feverish rush to make sure everyone is aware of just how much we support our troops.
There’s a near fetishization of those who serve in the military that threatens to rob appreciation of what they do of any real meaning. It’s almost become a rote ritual, a necessary addition to any speech or statement on par with, “God bless America,” an incantation that must be intoned to prove one’s patriotism regardless of whether there’s any genuine sentiment behind it. Hearing it so often robs it of its power; seriously, when was the last time you sneezed and even put any thought into what was meant by someone saying, “God bless you”? It’s just an expected string of words in response to a stimulus. And I hate to think of the idea of supporting our troops becoming something similar. Which it threatens to do by how mechanically omnipresent it seems to have become.
I don’t want to come across as if I’m unappreciative of our servicemen and servicewomen. They’ve taken on a responsibility I never even considered, at great personal and sometimes physical cost. Far be it from me to deny them their due. I guess I just want that due to actually mean something more than fashionable lip service. And that isn’t to say that all those who express their support are doing so for that reason. But it’s hard to see the profound misunderstanding of what Memorial Day means springing up all over Facebook and wonder how many of those people were doing so just so they could be seen doing so.
I was fortunate enough to have both my grandfathers survive World War II. My dad got out of the Marines in time to avoid Vietnam. I’ve never had to deal with the pain of having a loved one taken too soon in some distant land, unable to have said good-bye one last time. Today was set aside as a day to remember those loved ones, and to keep them and their families in our thoughts. Turning it into yet another opportunity to offer blanket support for all troops detracts from that. We have 364 other days in the year to tell the living how much we appreciate what they do. Can’t we let the honored dead keep their day to themselves?