Dear veterans and active duty military personnel: Thank you for your service … whoever you are.
Chances are we don’t know you, what you’re like, where you’re from or what you’ll be doing tomorrow. Still, it makes us feel patriotic to say it, like we’re in this with you all the way, even though we weren’t there when the shooting started.
True, many of you didn’t want to be there either, but you did your bit when called to duty, while the other 93 percent of the U.S. population had other business to attend to and we thank you for allowing us to do that.
We also pay our respects to the 700,000 or so service members who died in hostile actions over the last 244 years. This number does not include the 450,000 to 500,000 Civil War deaths, since we were fighting each other.
This is even though the origin of Memorial Day dates to 1866, when communities began to honor their Civil War dead. Not until 1971 did Congress make Memorial Day a national holiday and moved the observance from May 30 to the last Monday of the month, so federal and other workers could have a three-day holiday.
That, of course, changed everything. The once-solemn occasion became a celebration of early summer, with a patriotic component. We place wreaths, raise flags, say prayers for the fallen and thank the living for their service, before going off to enjoy the rest of the holiday.
But what if we finally realized that simply saying “thank you” to the living just isn’t enough?
What if we said being a fourth-year infantry sergeant has to be worth more than $32,135 in base pay? Or that you don’t have to pay state or federal income taxes on that, or that we’ll give you vouchers for the best hospitals in the country should you fall ill, or that you’ll receive at least a stipend of some kind for the rest of your life after your hitch is up?
What if we decided the best way to honor the war dead is to do something for the living beyond saying thanks? What, as we argue about everything else, were we to agree on this one thing and insisted on it?