Musings on Memorial Day 2023
By Capt. Dale Dye
One of the reasons we moved to Lockhart last year and left Hollywood in our rearview mirror was because we wanted to live among real Americans, to rub elbows and savor brisket with folks who understand concepts like service and self-sacrifice. On this Memorial Day, I’m wondering where those folks are.
Maybe it’s just the press of day-to-day living that’s overshadowed traditional observances. I may be painting with too broad a brush here. I’m not a native Texan but my friends tell me that’s a sin that can be forgiven with time, a good hat and the right pair of boots. And maybe there’s a swivet of Memorial Day observances that I’ve just missed seeing or hearing about, but where’s the one in my new hometown?
As a veteran, I’m hoping we won’t ignore this day or pass it off with a shrug. I’m hoping my fellow Texans are giving some thought to the millions of Americans who lost their lives in our nation’s wars or undeclared conflicts. As one who has watched men die in combat, I’m hoping we haven’t lost perspective on what Memorial Day means. Stay with me on this and you’ll see why.
Back in 1868, General John Logan decided his nation had forgotten the fallen on both sides of the bloody Civil War. As national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Civil War veterans, he issued a proclamation that eventually led to declaration of a day of remembrance for all our war dead. There’s a lot more to the history here, but that’s a thumbnail sketch of how we wound up with a red-letter day on our national calendar which was supposed to provide a break from everyday chores and make time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in preserving our freedoms.
Naturally, being the lazy, self-centered hedonists that many of us are, we’ve managed to turn that significant day into a combination barbecue, beer-bust, and long weekend. Given human nature, I guess that’s understandable but it’s too damn bad the veterans resting under their somber headstones or decomposing, lost and long forgotten on some remote battlefield, can’t join in the festivities. Seems to me if anyone deserves a beer and barbecue bash they do. But those folks are dead and dead people really put a damper on parties, with the possible exception of a traditional Irish wake.
Maybe the Irish have it right. Maybe we should turn our Memorial Day cookouts and chili contests into a wake for all the courageous men and women who died just because their nation asked them to risk it, and they believed it was their duty, their obligation and their honor to take the chance of losing it all. What that might do for me, for Lockhart and the rest of the nation, is send a signal that we aren’t blissfully ignorant of our commendable military history. It would show the people of this polyglot nation that here in Texas, we understand and appreciate the courage and patriotism it takes to lay down your life for a larger cause.
Naturally, given how tightly most of us are wrapped around the axle in our personal lives, moments of remembrance we owe our war dead mostly happen in isolated observances scattered hither and yon across the nation. And there’s a reason for that. Look north.
There’s not much very patriotic about our Congress these days, but you can blame that august body for the sham Memorial Day has become since they wimped out back in 1971 and passed the National Holiday Act to ensure all government bureaucrats got a three-day weekend. In 1999, wounded World War II vet Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduced a bill to restore the original day of observance and correct the national policy that slides the day around the calendar to the last Monday in May. He was spot on when he declared that Congressional action has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day. To date, there’s been no action on that proposal. Forgive me for usurping here, but that ain’t right. And it damn sure ain’t Texas.
Failing to recognize the service and sacrifice of our war dead, is not only a national travesty; it’s a personal thing that impugns our honor as Americans. I’ve been taught to quit bitching about a problem unless I can offer a solution, so here goes on this Memorial Day 2023.
No need to pass on the brisket, ribs and beer. That’s asking a bit much from Texans on a national holiday. But none of us would miss the few minutes it takes to remember the men and women who died in defense of our nation. You don’t have to know any of them personally to understand their ultimate sacrifice is what preserves our way of life. And that way of life — regardless of your personal or professional problems right now — is better than anywhere else on earth. A little mental salute is all it takes to say thanks to our fallen Americans. They ask nothing more than to be remembered.
Notice when I’m talking about these fallen Americans I don’t use terms like “gave their lives” and you shouldn’t either. That would imply they wanted to die. Believe me, I know from personal experience that they didn’t want anything of the sort. They wanted to live but they came up short on luck of the draw in combat. They wanted to live freely in a nation that allowed them to do that and offered a chance for success and happiness if they survived and worked hard for it. They wanted to be here with us in Lockhart and other little hometowns across the land. It was that desire that made military service worth the inherent risk. This Memorial Day — and every day we draw breath in this great nation — we need to remember that. It’s so little to ask for so much that was given to us all.