Memorial Day Thoughts
By Tom Mann
Tom Mann is an administrator for the Veteran’s Services Division with the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He is a partner with Oregon Heritage and helps us understand how best to approach veterans’ and war history in a respectful way. We invited Tom to give his thoughts about the connections between Oregon’s heritage and Memorial Day.
On Monday the 28th on grave sites throughout the state, small American flags will mark the place of a fallen warrior. It’s a small gesture to remember the huge sacrifice made by America’s fighting men, women, and their families to defend our nation.
Each generation seemingly has its own wars and its own losses. However as a nation, America is becoming less and less engaged. During World War II, every American in some way was affected by the war, whether through service, labor, victory gardens or rationing. Everyone knew someone who was in the war. During the Vietnam War, that number shrunk to just 40 percent of Americans having some direct involvement with the conflict. Today, less than 2 percent of Americans have had any direct impact by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it any wonder that Memorial Days have become a day off from work instead of a day for our nation to reflect on its war dead?
Military men and women, as well as veterans, will tell you that they are the last people who would choose war. Yet, when their nation calls – whether popular or not – these men and woman stand ready to do their duty. In the infamous words of John F. Kennedy, they truly do not ask what their nation can do for them, but what they can do for their nation. For the heroes who lost their lives in combat, doing for their nation meant enduring the fire and steel of battle and giving all they had, including their lives. It is these men and women we honor, not because we agreed or disagreed with the politicians who sent them into harm’s way, but because we admire their courage, their commitment, and their willingness to do what we ourselves did not do. We, the living, honor those who didn’t make it home ensuring that those who are home can live the lives they do.
Memorial Day is not just another day off work. We cannot allow ourselves to become so detached from the sacrifices born by others that we become calloused to their loss. Memorial Day is a day for each and every American to understand that we live the way we do today because of those who were willing to lay down their lives in war. Let us not be a nation that forgets the lessons of history, but instead let us be a people who deeply respect and revere that little American flag on that lone gravestone on Monday.
How are you planning to commemorate Memorial Day? There are several events happening across the state in honor of Memorial Day. Visit the Oregon Heritage Events Calendar to see what’s going on in your area. Make sure to check your local cemeteries for Memorial Day events too.
Oregon also has several organizations working to preserve military heritage. If you want to connect with these groups, contact Kuri Gill at email@example.com or (503) 986-0685 to get more information.
Between Memorial Day, May 28, through Labor Day, September 3, 2012, Blue Star Museums offer free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families. Get more information and view a list of participating museums in Oregon.
As part of the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, freelance photographer James Lommasson will discuss “Life After War: Photography and Oral Histories of Coming Home” on Friday, May 25 at 1:30 p.m. at the Willamalane Adult Activity Center in Springfield.