As a child, Memorial Day was celebrated as my grandmother Ethel’s birthday. Since May 30 was the designated Memorial Day for her entire life – long before it was changed to the last Monday in May – Memorial Day involved cake and ice cream not parades and flags.
Another reason why our family never celebrated Memorial Day – except as a birthday celebration – is because the last family member to die in service to his country was my Great Great Great Grandfather Samuel Edmiston who died at Antietam. And the country he died for was not the United States of America. (Note: if anyone in my family of origin is aware of any of our kinfolk who died in battle defending the United States, please let me know.)
Although several family members and friends have served in the military, they all returned home. I have friends buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but they all died many years after their service. I’ve read and re-read the obituaries of noble men and women who have died in action through the years, but they were not my siblings or cousins or parents.
When a young person dies defending their country, I cannot imagine the depth of their families’ losses. I hope I never know. But Memorial Day is different for them than for the rest of us.
According to this source, the total combat deaths of American troops have been over 666,441 since 1775. An additional 673,929+ have died in non-combat deaths.
Less than 10% of the U.S. population has served in the military according to Pew Research. And there is a widening divide between civilian and military culture according to this story. We wave our flags but few of us know what it’s like to experience Memorial Day as grieving people. We celebrate this day as privileged people.
I am humbled by this fact. I live freely in a nation I love which is also a nation that can be better. On this Memorial Day, I also remember that in 2018 more school children than armed service members have died at the hands of military weapons. As much as I appreciate the decrease in military deaths, this is a sin.
It’s time to use our privilege to change things.