It feels particularly cruel that the year in which the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II is marked will see no public Memorial Day ceremony at the Chattanooga National Cemetery and no flags at each of the more than 50,000 graves in the nearly 121-acre expanse.
Oh, we know the lack of a ceremony is not the fault of the local cemetery director nor the choice not to place flags the decision of the local Scout executive. Those decisions were made well above their pay grade — out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic — in Washington, D.C.
And we know individuals and families are welcome to visit the beautifully landscaped final resting place of their loved ones throughout this long weekend.
Like these decisions, all the decisions that have been made in this country to shutter schools, close down businesses and keep people at home during the pandemic have been made out of an abundance of caution.
It is the difference, experts tell us, between a national death toll from the virus nearing 100,000 and a number that could be nearer 1 million.
We're thankful, though, that an abundance of caution wasn't uppermost on the minds of those members of America's armed forces who are buried in Chattanooga's National Cemetery. Certainly, they worked under the command of field generals and ship captains who had planned strategy for battles, but when the word came to move forward, commence firing or charge into an enemy stronghold they didn't hesitate.
Our thoughts as an example of such bravery always go first to the thousands of troops who came ashore on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. To establish a second front in WWII's European theater, Allied powers had to cross the English Channel to France, where Germans were aligned on the high ground.
Although the earliest landings offered somewhat of a surprise, many individual soldiers that day faced almost certain annihilation as they crawled onto the sand and attempted to make their way up and over the cliffs where their enemy waited. Only the massive numbers of soldiers in waves that just kept coming were able to overcome the coastal fortifications.
The war's bravery wasn't limited to Normandy, though, but extended halfway across the world to tiny islands in the Pacific Ocean, which had to be claimed one by one as stepping stones to isolating Japan to its home island and, if necessary, taking the war there.
It was no less evident in the women who, never having worked before, took the place of fighting men in factories in order to turn out the materiel needed for the war effort; in the women who, having no idea what they were creating in heretofore nonexistent Oak Ridge, helped assemble the atom bombs that eventually ended the Pacific war; and in the women who, having done without during the Great Depression, continued to be thrifty while feeding their family with Spam and using molasses instead of sugar.
It was sacrificing and everybody pulling together and the general understanding that political differences need not be papered over but should take a back seat to the greater good.
In 2020, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, only about 300,000 of those 16 million U.S. service personnel who served in WWII are still alive. The youngest of them would be in their early 90s. The last U.S. president of their generation, George H.W. Bush, left office more than 27 years ago. The four presidents who followed him all were born after the end of the war.
Today, the country is being led by men and women — some of them smart and good and creative — who do not know the sacrifice of the Great Depression or WWII. Although some of their number bravely served their country, they always returned to an America whose citizens no longer were used to giving up anything for any war effort, were not used to doing something they didn't want to do, and were not used to putting liberty and freedom ahead of personal comfort and safety.
So it is not really surprising that the country's answer to a global pandemic was to close everything and go home. How the Greatest Generation, should it have been in charge, would have handled the crisis can only be speculated. We guess it might have been different — that sacrificing a few more lives might have been worth saving the country from an economic collapse. But perhaps that is wishful thinking.
On this Memorial Day weekend, though, we're thankful for those who did sacrifice in defense of our country — especially those who fought against tyranny in the war that ended 75 years ago this summer — so we might remain comfortable and safe today.