At 3 p.m. today in the midst of your backyard barbecue, set down your bratwurst or drumstick, put aside your cold, frothy beer, and pause for just one silent minute to put your hand over your heart and remember why exactly it is that you are able to enjoy that brat, that beer, that freedom to do whatever the heck you want. It will take some discipline to interrupt the fun and frivolity for a serious moment of reflection, and it will take some courage to actually remove that Mariner’s cap and lift your hand to your chest, but isn’t courage and discipline what this day is all about?
Memorial Day. A holiday on which we remember the men and women who have died serving our country; men and women who have not only sacrificed their lives, but have sacrificed their own freedom for ours. While we take the day off to relax or celebrate, many of the future honorees of this special day are undoubtedly working and fighting in foreign lands, far away from family, friends and even from freedom itself. No one is forcing them. They simply possess the courage and the discipline that others do not.
On May 30, 1868, Decoration Day was spawned as a day to commemorate the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. By the 1900s it was extended to include all Americans who have died while in service. While the geographical origin of this holiday has been claimed by several towns in various states, the Department of Veteran Affairs credits Waterloo, New York, as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. It wasn’t until 1971 that the day was established as an official U.S. holiday.
But sadly, like Easter, Halloween, and even Christmas, the real meaning of the holiday has been all but lost in commercialization and selfishness. For too many, Memorial Day is just a day off work. For others it’s just the “official” kickoff of the summer season. Or it’s just a blowout sale or a break from school or just another reason to party.
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Allow me to give you 1,196,793 reminders of what today is about. According to the VA, that’s how many American men and women have died in conflicts since we became an independent nation. It’s easy to get lost in such a big number, so I pose we don’t simply remember a faceless group of nearly 1.2 million. Let’s remember instead that this group is comprised of our neighbor’s daughter, our co-worker’s spouse, the little boy who used to deliver our paper, and that old guy who walked with a limp and always wore a smile and a black cap with a U.S. flag and shiny pins stuck to it. 1,196,793 Americans have sacrificed their freedom for ours. Many died battling real-life demons on the front lines so that we can relax in the nirvana of our back yards.
So today let’s remember. Let’s remember the deceased who have paved the highway of liberty. And like we are reminded in so many memorial services we personally attend, let’s not focus on death, let’s remember and celebrate 1.2 million lives.
The older we get, the more memorial services we attend; it’s just math. But the more I attend and hear stories about “how great she was” and “how caring he was,” the more I am aware of my deep-seated desire to tell my loved ones how great they are when they are alive. And on this day — this big memorial celebration of life and freedom — I am compelled to not only say a prayer of gratitude to those disciplined and courageous enough to die for me, but to reach out to those who are serving this country now, still alive, and say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your courage and your discipline, there would be no freedom for me to sit in the comfort of my home and openly pen these personal opinions, and there would be no freedom to celebrate Memorial Day however I want; in fact there would be no freedom at all.
To those patriots who have gone before us, this day is for you, and you will never, ever be forgotten. To those still fighting the fight, you are appreciated more than our swelling hearts and seeping tear ducts can possibly convey.
Patrick Thier is a broker at Virgil Adams Real Estate and a member of The Olympian’s 2014 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at pthier127@ gmail.com.