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Saturday, May 27, 2017

USA - Memorial Day 2017

Decoration Day, which we now call Memorial Day, began spontaneously in the spring of 1864 as our national day of suffering.

It was the inevitable result of the American Civil War in which at least 620,000 men died. Their survivors suffered from those deaths. About 576,000 men were wounded. Surgery was primitive. There were no antibiotics and the only anesthetics – alcohol, cannabis and opium – were often in short supply. One hundred thousand men died of camp diseases and another 400,000 simply disappeared. Some of them may have been deserters but some portion of them simply rotted where they fell. About eight percent of the combatants in the War Between the States returned home without an arm or a leg.

That suffering only found meaning when it was remembered.

Decoration Day was the day the living tended the monuments to the dead. In the beginning, usually the monuments were made of wood. Sometimes they were slabs of slate. As decades passed, as the North and the South reunited in their shared suffering and their terrible shared history, the monuments turned to granite, marble and bronze. Those monuments were not made as insults to some unimaginable future. There were made so the future might never forget that it was built on the bones of those who sacrificed their own futures for us.

By the time of our next war, when 2,446 Americans died in Cuba and the Philippines, American History was carved in stone. There was nothing arbitrary and relative about the story of us. History is not made of sand. It can only be buried by it.

Every generation or so, we are reunited as a nation by our sorrow.

Fifty-three thousand four-hundred and two American soldiers died in the War to End War; 405,399 died in the war after that; 36,574 died in Korea; 58,220 perished in Vietnam; 383 died in the Gulf War; and so far 4,410 have died in Iraq and 2,184 have died in Afghanistan. They were all our sons and brothers. They are our heroes.  They died for us. Our history is written in their blood.  Each of their deaths was its own timeless moment and we are not redeemed from our history by renouncing it. We are not only who we are. We are also who we were.

Our history is a pattern of timeless moments. Each of their deaths was an act of faith in us, in who we would become, in who we have become and in who we will become.

Enjoy your barbecue.