Memorial Day: A Time to Remember

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Army Air Corps veteran Virginia Ellis, 94, of Issaquah, Washington, and Norman R. Burkey, son of a WWII soldier killed in action, lay a memorial wreath on behalf of the United States of America at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on May 8, 2016. Photo by Jeff Malet.

Memorial Day is upon us — May 27 — and it’s time to remember.

On Memorial Day, we are admonished, urged and inspired to remember and honor the men and women who have died in the military service of our country.

By inference, we will also remember those who served and survived the struggles, battles and wars. And we will think of those who continue to serve honorably to protect our country, all of whom will have their time on Veterans Day.

Perhaps unfairly, we think a lot of World War II on this memorializing day.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, ending his years of service in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress in the 1950s under controversial circumstances, nevertheless defined himself honorably, describing himself as an old soldier — as in “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

They are fading away still, more and more every day, shrinking the number and memories of those who fought in World War II and subsequent actions.

Today we are asked to remember — to remember for those who are gone. We are asked to remember and imagine them, to think of those white markers at Arlington or in small-town cemeteries. We are asked to pull out fading photographs and remember those who went, more often than not willingly, with fervor, afraid and nervous, eager, staring across the ocean and spilling themselves and their blood on distant shores and sands, where many of them died violent, sudden and painful deaths.

We saw some of the survivors of World War II here in Washington when thousands of them showed up for the inauguration of the World War II Memorial, displayed in the glory of their ordinary humanity. We saw a brown-haired farmer from the Midwest sitting with his family as tourists and D.C. residents came to shake his hands and thank him for his service. He wept, he said, in gratitude and because he remembered his lost friends.

We saw an Army vet with sergeant’s stripes in a wheelchair with his granddaughter, who told us he was blind, and a teenager in full early 21st-century regalia — tattoo, Mohawk, sunglasses and earring — stand tall and salute him, to thank him for his service. He told us in old-fashioned noncom terms that he saw General Patton at a crossroads, and that he was a “tough SOB.”

It’s time to remember the lives lost and imagine the lives lived afterward, and the spirit of those times which were about good old values of America, like courage, decency, good will and a kind of kinetic energy to prevail.

Let’s hope that our memories of these good men and women are not turned into circus-tent sophistries and rallies of balderdash and sloganeering.

It is, after all, Memorial Day. Time to remember. Them.

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