Memorial Day (originally called “Decoration Day”) was founded after the Civil War. The amount of men both the South and the Union lost during the Civil War was so staggering that it is often still referred to as our bloodiest war. Needing a way to grieve for their fallen loved ones, women and children took to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their killed husbands, fathers and brothers. Over time, as America involved itself in more wars and saw the loss of more men and, eventually women, Memorial Day soon came to be a day to memorialize all fallen comrades, not just those from the Civil War.
These days, despite the fact that we still have thousands of soldiers deployed overseas, the meaning of Memorial Day seems to have diminished. For many people, it marks the start of summer. It’s the day where it’s officially OK to unroll the cover off your hibernating pool. It’s an excuse to invite over a few friends and fire up the grill. We build bunkers out of charcoal, dodge the friendly fire of water guns and begin donning our summer uniforms of shorts and tank-tops. Rarely, however, do we stop to remember the soldiers who have fallen in order for us to enjoy the oncoming lazy days of summer.
As Americans, we are certainly a culture full of short attention spans and we, the media, do a piss poor job of helping you remember why Memorial Day is still relevant. We publish thousands of words each year memorializing overdosed musicians and crazy, drug addled actors. We’d rather publish images of wild-eyed and high comedians than show you the reality of the flag covered caskets that still come rolling in off of planes each week. That’s incredibly pathetic when you consider that roughly 6,400 soldiers have been killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. So, maybe it’s our fault.
This year deserves to be different, though. Recently, one of my best friends sent me a video of a bunch of bored soldiers in Iraq dancing to a Vanilla Ice song. We’d been discussing the reasoning behind the exorbitant amount of soldier suicides. I guess it had gotten the best of both our moods and he decided we needed to cheer up. Except he failed. As I watched the videos, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many of those boys were still alive.
They really were boys, too. None of them look any older than the staff at CityBeat. Most of them look a lot younger. Soldiers are hardly grown-ups — according to Congressional record, the average age of a combat soldier is 27 and 68 percent of the fallen soldiers are under the age of 30. For many of us, that means they’re kids who went to our school. They’re our prom dates, point guards, arch-enemies and best friends.
This Memorial Day, as you’re preparing for your summer-long battle with mosquitoes and weeds, enjoy this playlist of fun, bar-b-q worthy music (including two versions of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”). At some point, though, check out the videos that go along with them. Even if you have no personal acquaintance to memorialize, take time to remember that others around the patio table may have someone missing. Say “Thank you” to the dude with the U.S. Marines sticker on the back of his jeep (he’s surely lost a friend or two) or apologize to the mother with the gold star on her service banner. Drink a beer for the girl you knew back in high school who was in ROTC or take your kid to go pop an American flag on their great-great-grandpa’s grave.
With each passing year, the reasons behind any war almost always end up blurry. Don’t let the faces of our soldiers become that way, too.