Honor Living As Well As Dead On Memorial Day
In 1868, three years after America’s Civil War, aka the War Between the States ended, the head of an organization of union sailors and soldiers called for setting aside a day when the graves of Civil War dead would be decorated with flowers. Major General John A. Logan declared “Decoration Day” should be May 30. The idea spread and by the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation, with many state legislatures passing laws making the day an official holiday. After World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to honor the dead of all American wars and in 1971, more than a century after the first Decoration Day, an act of Congress scheduled Memorial Day on the last Monday in May and made it a national holiday.
This year, the Memorial Day holiday falls on actual Memorial Day, May 30. On the three-day weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer, across the land, barbecue grills will heat up, shopping malls will gear up and the revels that attend Americans relaxing and enjoying themselves will begin. This year the tri-state area endured a brutal winter and a long cold, damp excuse for spring. We are more than ready for a little “down time”.
While we revel in our holiday leisure, the reason for Memorial Day goes on across the globe. Figures from a number of reliable sources put the number of American combat personnel killed in Iraq between 2003 and thus far in 2011 at 4,452 and in Afghanistan at 1,581. Soldiers in all branches of the Armed Forces shed their blood and gave their lives so that we might enjoy a three-day weekend and a lifetime of freedom from fear of foreign domination. It is fitting and proper that we pause in our holiday activities to honor them, however briefly.
We can and should on this Memorial Day 2011 also honor the living who just last month provided us with yet another reason to appreciate the sacrifices our servicemen and women are willing to make for the rest of us. At about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, Americans were told to expect President Barack Obama to make a “significant” announcement about the war on terror that we fight, here at home and abroad. After an hour of speculation by a regiment of broadcast journalists and political pundits, the president gave the nation the news that a team of Navy SEALs had pulled off a daring raid on the compound in Pakistan housing Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, shot and killed Bin Laden and seized armfuls of valuable information on Al Qaeda and the terrorist group’s operations. The raid was accomplished without loss of any American life. Even the tracking dog the SEALs brought with them returned safely to the team’s base. The only casualty was a helicopter that crashed and was later blown up by the SEALs themselves to prevent enemy forces from garnering information that the aircraft could have provided.
The choice to join the SEALs is never undertaken lightly. To qualify to enter the program, an aspirant must swim 500 yards in 12.5 minutes or less, followed by a 10-minute rest; do 42 pushups in under two minutes, followed by a twominute rest; do 50 sit-ups in under two minutes, followed by a two-minute rest; do six pull-ups, followed by a 10-minute rest, and run 1.5 miles in boots and long pants in less than 11.5 minutes. After meeting those and other requirements, prospective Navy SEALs train for some 30 months before they are ready for missions such as the raid that brought down Bin Laden. The training pushes them to the limit both mentally and physically in order to weed out those who may not be able to successfully complete the demanding missions and operations with which SEALs are faced, and from day one, the emphasis is on teamwork. SEALs learn tasks that may not be possible for a single man to accomplish, but can be possible for a team composed of men who have the same training and skills.
Their victories do not come without cost. SEALs never discuss the missions on which this country sends them. In many cases, only selected members of their families know that they belong to this particular unit. They move among us, unknown, unsung heroes who, as all members of our armed forces do, put their country and their mission above and beyond their own lives.
Training and teamwork brought all the members of SEAL Team Six home with their mission accomplished—elimination of the leader of enemy forces who brought about the destruction of the World Trade Center, the damaging of the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. On this Memorial Day 2011, as we honor the dead, including as well all the members of the nation’s armed forces who have died in America’s conflicts, the almost 3,000 innocent civilians and first responders who were the first casualties of this the latest battle for freedom, we have good reason to honor the living. Between the hot dogs and the shopping, the beaches and the parks, on this Memorial Day 2011, let us remember and reflect on Team Six and the soldiers in all branches of the Armed Forces, known and unknown, who shed their blood and risk their lives so that we can enjoy a three-day weekend and a lifetime of freedom.