Remembering the Dead – and What It All Means

I don’t come from a military family.  My dad was preparing to go to Korea but that conflict ended before he was sent to Seoul.  One of my uncles was a WWII vet but he returned home without injury.

I’ve served parishioners who returned from war as heroes and were buried in Arlington National Cemetery as old men.  Other friends returned with PTSD and they don’t talk about it.

The last member of my family to die in a war was my great-great grandfather Samuel Robert Edmiston who died on September 17, 1862 at Antietam – and he was fighting against the United States.  So Memorial Day does not have intimate bearing on my soul, in terms of having a close cousin or friend or brother who lost his life fighting for our country.

But Memorial Day has broad impact on us – as long as we remember why people have died fighting wars.  Just as MLK Day becomes merely a 3-day weekend if we forget the words and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr and other civil rights heroes, Memorial Day is about picnics and (finally) getting to wear white again, unless we remember that real people died for something greater than themselves.  And they had families and friends whose lives were altered forever.

Remembering them with thanks today.


2 responses to “Remembering the Dead – and What It All Means

  1. I thought this quote from Benjamin Duelholm from the Christian Century is spot on:
    “We have contradictory feelings about our veterans. We enjoy video games filled with raw and vivid depictions of combat. Yet we seem to shy away from those who actually live through battle. Young veterans face an elevated unemployment rate, which some advocates link to job discrimination. We surround the fallen with glory and honor, but we have less to say about the 75,000 veterans who are homeless on any given night.

    That is the danger of making veterans into our secular saints. The saints, martyrs and pagan heroes don’t need our compassion or our efforts to give their deaths meaning. They died fully rewarded. Our duty to those who serve is different. “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,” God tells Hosea.

    Decorating the last resting places of the fallen is a fine and decent thing to do. It is especially fitting when we have done all that we could to keep those graves empty in the first place.’

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