Memorial Day is America’s first official day of summer: Barbecues and pools shake off the dust of long winters, we can wear white pants (FINALLY), and we restock our garden beds with fresh annuals.
Growing up in Indianapolis, Memorial Day is synonymous with Race Weekend for me. In fact, I didn’t even know Memorial Day was related to remembering America’s fallen soldiers until I lived in Los Angeles. It took me, an American citizen, 23 years of celebrating Memorial Day with checkered flags and lawn seats at the Motor Speedway before learning that Memorial Day isn’t just about racing and grilling and gardening; it’s about the people who died so that I could still do these things. . . and wear white pants while I do them.
No one returns home from war without scars, and as our veterans’ scars grow in number and severity, America grows in apathy.
Now, I consider myself a liberal flower-child hippie, a pacifist in the truest sense. The closest I’ve come to a weapon is a kitchen knife, and I feel sympathy whenever I spot roadkill. I will always choose peace over war, diplomacy over force, daisies over tanks, even at the risk of naivete being exposed as my greatest flaw. I will never support the slaughter of war, but I also will not support the post-slaughter abandonment of our country’s military that seems all-too-familiar in our modern society.
Americans have no problem slapping “Support Our Troops” ribbons on their vehicles, but when it comes to putting the mantra into action, the troops see anything but support. Given the catastrophe with the VA wait lists, it isn’t hard to see that America has gotten a little sidetracked with maintaining our well-oiled military machine. The soldiers that pledge to give their lives for us seem to only have value if they are actively jumping on land mines — after that, we don’t seem to care.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite of caring: We practically avoid veterans. If you happen to meet a veteran returned from war, conversation grows stale and awkward. Chances are they probably have some kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or maybe they killed an innocent civilian in a pointless war, or are being eaten alive by survivor’s guilt. No one returns home from war without scars, and as our veterans’ scars grow in number and severity, America grows in apathy.
As we continue on this path of ignoring our scarred and broken soldiers, we remove ourselves from the true purpose of this “summer kick-off” holiday. If you truly wish to celebrate memorial day, bring that homeless vet off the highway one of your freshly-grilled bratwursts. Volunteer at your local VA, god knows they need the extra manpower. Call your co-worker’s son’s girlfriend’s sister, the only person you know who has seen combat in the past three years, and ask her if she needs ANYTHING, even an omelette, then tell her thank you.
Thank you, because if it were not for her and people like her, Memorial Day would be a hell of a lot different.