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Memorial Day – Selective or Honest Memorializing?

May 25 is Memorial Day this year in the United States. It started as an event to honor Union soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honored their dead. After World War I, it was extended to include all men and women who died in any war or military action. It was originally known as Decoration Day. The current name for this day did not come into use until after World War II. Decoration Day and then Memorial Day used to be held on May 30, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed as part of a move to use federal holidays to create three-day weekends. So, from 1971, Memorial Day has been officially observed on the last Monday in May.

It’s a great day to be an American. It’s the sort of national holiday that creates remembrance of freedom, celebration of democracy, and an expression of our identity as a People–a People willing to die (and to kill) in the name of liberty and justice for all. At least, liberty and justice as we define it for all whom we deem worthy to receive it (and some, against their will).

I do wonder sometimes if we begin to believe that true freedom is gained by the shedding of the blood of our fallen soldiers. I think it might be more correct to admit that the freedom we enjoy has been gained by us making our current enemies shed more of their blood than we have shed of our own. That, too, is the story of America and the story of Memorial Day.

So who do we properly remember this Memorial day? We remember each person who serves in our nation’s armed forces. We pray for their safekeeping. We pray they will never have to take someone else’s life. We remember those deployed overseas. We pray they may be reunited with their loved ones soon. We remember those who have experienced combat. We pray you would restore peace to their souls and wholeness to their bodies. We remember those who have died in combat. We pray for the repose of their souls and the comfort of their families. We remember the innocent victims of our wars—and of all wars. We remember those at Guantanamo Bay. We pray for those innocent of wrongdoing, those cleared for release but with no freedom in sight, and those held more than a decade without trial. We remember the children we have killed with our drone strikes. We remember the 137,000 civilians killed during and after the war in Iraq. We remember the children of Syria, Nigeria, and everywhere conflict deprives a child of their right to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

When we are quick to condemn the violence of others while ignoring the deeds we have committed with our own hands, we do harm to the concept of a Memorial Day. As you reflect on the meaning of this important Day, celebrate with a strong motivation to work for international peace, justice, and freedom.