The origins of Memorial Day can be traced back to a time after a Civil War that brought the concept of “total war” in the form of wholesale slaughter of loved-ones into battle, both in the North and the South. Unfortunately, honoring the dead in battle has become part of America’s historical profile that tends to finds us at war in every generation.
The dead were sometimes left in the battlefield where the victors constructed beautiful cemetery monuments to those who fell. But as time went on, more of the dead tend to be brought home to rest in their hometowns.
The nation has organized national cemeteries for this purpose. Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., is to me, the most famous and the one I seek to visit when in the area.
Our local cemetery is Fort Logan National Cemetery on South Sheridan Blvd. is well honored by those who reside there. Of course, the national cemeteries hold more than those that die in battle.
Today they are populated mostly by veterans who have a right to be buried at Fort Logan when their life is done. Being put to rest there is the last “Thank you for your service” gesture by a grateful nation.
I am increasingly invested in Fort Logan as more and more members of my family are buried there. It is a beautiful place and very sacred ground.
Actually, I became interested in national cemeteries when as a nine-year-old, I memorized President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The “Four score and seven years ago” words along with Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or give me death” speech (that I also memorized) anchored an intense curiosity about the history of the American Revolution as well as that of the Civil War.
The notion of fighting and dying for country has been one of the major points of my thinking when trying to understand commitment to family, community and country. The question I have asked myself in this regard has been, “When is the right time to offer your life for what is important?”
The answer I have come up every time has been that there is never a good time to do that and besides, you cannot offer something that you do not own. The gift of life is precious and giving it up cannot be done without a struggle.
Latino heritage over time has evidenced moments of sacrifice and even death in battle that are treated by others in the community with such stoicism that it almost appears as if there is an accepted understanding of a “duty to die.” Perhaps this why historically, Latinos have died in battle in greater percentages.
This brings to mind Jose Alfredo Jimenez’ song, “Camino de Guanajuato” with its famous saying, “La vida no vale nada.” But the notion that life is worth less than death cannot be part of a mind-set of a community that is tasked for leadership.
Memorial Day is for the living to honor and pay homage to those that sacrificed their lives in battle for our benefit. Let us keep in mind however, that those sacrificed were mostly taken by the enemy and not given up voluntarily.
The struggles of life and the character of that unique experience defines our nature and human condition because making life worthwhile for ourselves and others is the primary mandate of our civilization. So, in visiting our military loved ones this Memorial Day make sure to say, “Thank you for your service.”