That is a question that one would perhaps expect from a generation that now looks at a picture of Adolph Hitler and thinks he was an actor, or from my generation, when 40 plus years ago, some of us wanted to overthrow the government.
However, it was former US Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who fought in the Civil War and died in 1935, that had that question posed to him by a young man back in 1884. Here, in part, was his response, delivered at a Memorial Day speech to a New Hampshire Army Unit :
“So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiam and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhpas a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall-at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory.”
We talked about how the year had flown by, and once again we are getting ready to watch our seniors graduate, or, “commence.” What are they commencing? Life as almost-adults. Are they ready? Did we do all we could to get them that way? What does it mean, as Holmes said, “To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might.” Do our kids and grandkids want that the same way we do?
One thing we discussed, having both lived in a combat zone, is that the true link to having the freedom to “commence” lies with the fallen soldiers whose graves we visit and decorate as part of our Memorial Day rituals and celebration. The slogan, “If you can read, thank a soldier,” is not just fodder for a bumper sticker. Nearly a quarter of Iraqis were illiterate as a result of living under Saddam’s regime, with women being unable to read at twice the rate of men. I don’t know what the rate would have been when Mayor Ronnie was in Vietnam, but I know from experience that the easiest way to control people is to keep them from being able to read.
We laughed about the fact that, as is often the case with many “firsts,”, both the North as well as the South claim that the very first Memorial Day celebration occurred within each region, respectively. New Hampshire is sure that they launched the tradition, as is Mississippi.
We had both heard at the Veterans’ Museum Coffee Call gathering that this year for our annual Memorial Day commemoration, we will be graced with the presence of a three star general. (See Sandy Thompson’s From The Veterans’ Museum article on page……………..for more information.) Because of the tireless work of Sandy and the volunteers at the Museum, Athens is often blessed to have distinguished officers as guests at such events.
“Memorial Day is more than a BBQ, or cleaning up the pontoon boat, and getting down to the river,” he said. “We need to pause, recognize and remember those who paid the ultimate price, and give respect and recognition to the real meaning of Memorial Day. It is important to pass it along to our young people,” he added. As always, the time had zipped by, and we barely had time to pray. But, pray we did, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner