Take time to honor our nation’s war dead

Memorial Day feels like the start of summer, though in the Northwest we know it doesn’t really arrive until after the Fourth of July. Nevertheless, on the last Monday in May, we begin to build hope for continuous days of reliably dry, if not always sunny, weather.

Perhaps that sense of anticipation for happier days ahead has roots in our youth, when the end of the school year meant carefree days and freedom.

For most of us, Memorial Day is the end of a three-day weekend, a paid vacation, a time for a backyard barbecue or a getaway to the beach or the mountains. It’s a parade or a family reunion.

Not many of us will stop what we’re doing at 3 p.m. to observe the National Moment of Remembrance to honor those who have died in wars defending this nation. That’s not a judgment. It’s just a reality now, because we are all so removed from the smell of death and the screaming horrors that took place — are taking place — on distant battlefields.

Even the continuing fatalities of those in service today in Afghanistan and Iraq seem far away, and unrelated to our Memorial Day activities. Those wars are almost over, aren’t they? So they seem more than ever like the abstract concept of armed conflict, not a place where young men and women are really sacrificing their lives.

And yet, for many — too many — families, Memorial Day is not a theoretical notion.

Those people will visit cemeteries today to mourn loved ones who gave their lives so the rest of us could have this day off from work, and feel free.

Some of those families are just coming to grips with a loss, maybe as recent as yesterday. Others silently stand at gravestones letting memories and deep sorrow overwhelm them, trying to heal older wounds.

Three years after this nation’s bloody Civil War ended, commander Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, of the organization for Union Civil War veterans, proclaimed Decoration Day on May 30. He declared that flowers should be placed on the graves of the nation’s war dead.

Over time, scarred by other wars, the last Monday in May became Memorial Day, a time to honor those who died in all wars. In 2000, Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity.”

The act asks people to stop wherever they are at 3 p.m. Monday for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died serving in the armed forces. It seems the least we can do, particularly as we remain engaged in war today.

Our best tribute, however, is to recognize that the hope for sunnier days ahead that we are feeling today came from the sacrifice of others. We are free to go to the beach today, or to do whatever we like, because of them and those yet destined to meet that fate.

We all should stop what we’re doing at 3 p.m. and honor the war dead by reflecting on what we can do to give something back, and make the world a better place — for our families, our communities and for every other person sharing this planet.