Memorial Day. The unofficial start of summer. Pools open. The school year enters the final stretch. Family cookouts. Sales at the local mall. Vacations.
That’s what most people, sadly, think of when Memorial Day comes to mind.
Very few people truly ponder the real purpose of this holiday: to honor the memories of the thousands of Americans who’ve died in the service of their country, fighting in wars around the globe.
The American Battle Monuments Commission cares for two dozen cemeteries around the world, where the remains of hundreds of thousands of America’s sons and daughters rest. Most are from the two great conflicts of the last century: World War I and World War II.
To come upon one of these cemeteries is a truly awe-inspiring, life-changing moment. The Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial sits on a plateau above the valley that is home to the village of Epinal, in eastern France. Trudging up the hill to the cemetery, rounding the curve and walking through the open doorway of the memorial, you are hit by a sea of white marble headstones. Row after row after row.
Young men who died in the prime of their lives in the bitter action for the Heasbourg Gap in the winter of 1944-45. Young men who would never return to their homes back in the States, their parents and sisters, their girlfriends.
This is what Memorial Day is about. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about recognizing that there’s something bigger than oneself in this petty world. It’s about duty and honor. It’s about embracing the ideals this nation stands for, pulling strings to get into the military, not to run away.
No one who stands in the midst of one of those seas of white marble headstones, gazing down at the grave of a brother, an uncle, a father will ever be the same. That image will forever become what he associates with Memorial Day.
The men and women whose memories we honor today willingly placed themselves in harm’s way for our cookouts, pool parties and sales.
Bless them. And never forget them.