Memorial Day 2017: Remembering Those Who Sacrificed…

By Boe James

For many, this weekend is a time for picnics, BBQ’s and fun family activities, for holiday shopping and sales or for those who have recently graduated, perhaps a time of reflection on the future and the past.

Flanders Field

But this weekend is not just the beginning of summer; it is also Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day is, and should be, a solemn day when we commemorate and honor our war dead, not a holiday to “celebrate”.  Originally, it was called Decoration Day and ladies (mostly) went to the military cemeteries and laid (or scattered) flowers on the graves of Civil War veterans after listening to patriotic speeches.  Today the speeches continue as does the laying of flowers at the graves of military veterans at cemeteries all across the nation.

Since the creation of Memorial Day in the wake of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Americans have fought and died for our country in battles across the globe so that freedom could endure and our nation prosper.  Some are fighting for our country still, in Afghanistan.  In doing so, they are carrying on the legacy of service and sacrifice forged by Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen at places like Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Guadalcanal, Midway, Khe Sanh and Khafji and most recently in such places as Baghad, Fallujah and Tora Boro.

This weekend is a good opportunity for everyone, including our recent graduates, to reflect upon the freedoms we all enjoy and upon the brave Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who have died so that we can have those freedoms.  Even as we honor the war dead, members of our Armed Forces are putting themselves in harm’s way and some may be dying today.  We need to remember them also as they continue to support, defend and protect America and enhance the ideals of liberty, justice and freedom.

Unfortunately, history has taught us the bitter lesson that freedom is not guaranteed. There will always be individuals, groups or nations that don’t believe in the “certain inalienable rights” of all people that our Constitution promises to protect.  This weekend we honor noble service men and women who sacrificed all for those rights.

In Flanders FieldThis weekend, let us not forget the sacrifice of those who died.  Let us not forget the deeper meaning behind the day amid the parades and barbecues that have come to herald the beginning of summer.  Let us not forget the real reason that men and women in uniform march each year.  Let us honor and remember our war dead and the sacrifices they have made.  At the same time, let us hope and pray that conflict will end.

World War I brought us the famous poem “In Flanders Field,” which was written by John McCrae, a Canadian Army Major.  That poem will be read or printed in the program at almost every Memorial Day Ceremony.  That war also brought us the Buddy Poppy as a symbol of sacrifice.  During the weekend veterans’ organizations, particularly the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), will be selling these red flower symbols to raise funds for veterans causes.  The Buddy Poppies are all made by veterans who are disabled or in nursing homes.  Buying and wearing one is a visual symbol of support for war veterans.

Maybe in the future, there will be a time when Americans will not have to make great sacrifices to stand against tyranny, injustice, hatred and terrorism. But, until that day we must thank God that living among us are those men and women who willingly join the Armed Forces and take up the cause of defeating tyranny and who possibly sacrifice their lives for our freedom.  History has shown that civilization does not thrive without freedom and that freedom does not survive without those willing to sacrifice in its name.

On Memorial Day services will be held at various locations:

  • At the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, 23029 North Cave Creek Rd, Phoenix, at 8 a.m., with various speakers;  
  • In Fountain Hills at the Veterans Memorial on the south side of Fountain Park at 9 a.m., with Barbara Hatch, Executive Director of the Veterans Heritage Project and Mike Ferguson, Commander, Military Order of the Purple Heart and former Commander, AZ Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
  • In Scottsdale at the Chaplain Statue at Scottsdale City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., at 10:00 a.m. with LtCol John Chavez, US Army as the keynote speaker.   

The Fountain Hills and Scottsdale ceremonies are hosted by local veterans groups.

I strongly encourage everyone to do something to reflect upon or remember the reason for this particular holiday.  It is a day of commemoration and honor and not a day of celebration.

Phoenix Veterans Cemetery

photo credit: Willie Stark

Postscript:  Many people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day.  Memorial Day is officially proclaimed to honor those who have died while serving in the Armed Forces in time of war, while Veterans Day is set aside to honor those who have served or are now serving in the Armed Forces.  On both days, we should be thankful for those who serve to protect our American freedoms.

Since not everyone can participate in Memorial Day services, Congress established the “National Moment of Remembrance” and asks that all Americans wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time, on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity for a duration of one minute.  The time 3 p.m. time was chosen because it is a time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday.  This Moment does not replace traditional Memorial Day events, rather, it is an act of national unity in which all Americans, whether alone or with family or friends, honor those who died in service to the United States.


Leave a Reply