An American flag rests in front of the grave of U.S. Army soldier PFC Reginald La'Juan Russell at the Chattanooga National Cemetery on Holtzclaw Ave.Photo by Tim Barber
If things go according to form, probably too few Americans will pause today for a moment of solemn remembrance of our fellow citizens who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Nevertheless, Memorial Day is one of our most important holidays.
It is correctly noted that nowadays fewer and fewer Americans have close relatives serving in our all-volunteer military. But that should not diminish by one iota our recognition of the sacrifices made by our troops both in the distant past and, in more recent years, in far-flung places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
More than 4,400 U.S. troops gave their lives in the Iraq War. The figure is higher than 1,900 for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Some Americans, of course, question whether the United States should have taken part in either or both of those wars. They are entitled to their opinions. But they, as well as those who believe that our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been worthwhile, are able to express those views openly and without fear of government oppression in large part because American men and women over the centuries laid down their lives in the defense of constitutional liberties, including the freedom of speech.
That is a marvelous legacy of heroism and devotion to duty -- and one we should not forget.
At the same time, it isn't necessary to hold with those who believe that Memorial Day should be a day of ceaselessly somber reflection, and that activities such as picnics, swimming and barbecues are somehow inappropriate or even vulgar under the circumstances.
We as a people have every right to be proud of the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. That is something assuredly worth our rejoicing, and if that takes the form of enjoyable get-togethers, so be it.
So if you choose on this day to engage in festivities with friends and loved ones, do so without hesitation. That, too, is a simple freedom you enjoy because our brave military stands between the rest of us and totalitarian forces that would eagerly rob us of our liberty.
At some point in the midst of your activities, however, remember that your enjoyment of gatherings with those you love is, in part, courtesy of our men and women in uniform who willingly put aside their own wants and needs -- and in some cases gave up their lives in the process.