My mother always called this day “Decoration Day”—a day to “decorate” the graves of the fallen. The term “Memorial Day” replaced “Decoration Day” in the late 19th century—the name change occurred because Decoration Day had evolved into a day of honoring the dead of all American wars (not just the Civil War, which had prompted the first Decoration Day).
The word “Memorial” means “something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, etc. as a monument or a holiday…” Memorial Day is a holiday that seeks to preserve our memory of the “fallen”—a way of remembering our national history and the tremendous human cost of war. For me that means any form of war, including the present war against the Coronavirus, the war against inequality, the war against poverty, the war against drugs, etc. These wars, too, are efforts to preserve our freedom as a people and as a nation.
The present war against a global pandemic has helped broadened our American perspective of the “Hero”—“a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” We are now aware that our heroes are not just those who gave their all in military service, but also those who now put their lives at risk to “free” us from the tyranny of Covid-19. Our list of heroes has expanded. Suddenly we see the bus driver who drove health professionals and hospital personnel to work each morning over the last several months, as a hero. Like the soldier, the sailor, the marine, and the airman, these bus drivers put their lives at risk doing their job. Some of these bus drivers and other public transportation people have paid the ultimate price—becoming the “fallen” in this war. The grocery store employees, the cleaning staff at hospitals, the truck drivers, and so many other “ordinary” people (in or out of a particular uniform) are all engaged in this present and costly war which has taken 100,000 lives in three months.
There are those who say that it is not the job of the government to protect our health. Yet all the wars ever fought by this nation were about protecting our health! There are those who say that the government is only to protect our “rights” and if we trade “liberty” for safety we end up losing both. How can “liberty” (“rights”—whatever they are and I’m not sure what these persons mean by these words) be ours, unless we are safe to exercise those rights (liberties)?
I honor and remember the “fallen” this Memorial Day—whether in military uniform or in any other service to our national community—in a time of war. . They paid the ultimate sacrifice—they were, they are, the casualties of war—all wars past and present. They have kept us safe. Without health (“the state of being free from illness or injury”), without being safe—“rights” and “liberty” could not be ours.
|"In health (safety) there is freedom,|
Health (safety) is the first of all liberties"