The heroes we honor on Memorial Day for the most part died wanting nothing so much as to protect their children and families, and to leave them a better world. As we remember their sacrifice, perhaps we also should rejoice in how well they succeeded. Today is a day for somber reflection, as well as joyful celebration.
Memorial Day grew out of the Civil War practice of placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers, and for long enough to be considered a tradition, it was observed May 30. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been celebrated on the last Monday in May. That means that, as it does this year, it can come as early as May 25. That rankles some who remember the "real" date, but the three-day weekend the Monday arrangement provides is in keeping with the holiday.
But before firing up the grill, take time to remember those who gave so much. There is a flag placement at 7 a.m. today at the VFW on Main Ave. Memorial Day services are scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Vietnam Memorial near River City Hall and at 11 a.m. at the Durango Veterans Memorial near the entrance to Greenmount Cemetery.
Remember also how much we owe them. They left us with a lot to enjoy and even more reason to be thankful.
Outside the military, few living Americans have known war firsthand. Except for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and that nation's subsequent seizure of part of the Aleutians - neither of which were then part of the United States proper - foreign troops have not invaded U.S. soil in more than a century. The last war that directly threatened American freedom ended 64 years ago. Even the nuclear threat of the Cold War is receding from memory.
Meanwhile, we have expanded our freedom. Even faced with the threat of terrorism, Americans now enjoy more personal liberty than ever before. In the time since World War II, we have eliminated legal discrimination, opened opportunities in employment and education for women and minorities, and expanded voting rights. As a people, we have never been so free.
Last year's presidential election reinforced that. A great deal of attention rightly has been focused on the fact that, for the first time, the United States elected a black president - less than half a century after ending official segregation. And his closest rival for his party's nomination was a woman.
Perhaps more important is the tremendous level of public interest and involvement the presidential campaign elicited. For all its flaws, this is a healthy democracy.
Moreover, we generally have the resources to enjoy our freedom. There is much that is troubling about today's economy, but to a soldier going to war in 1942, steeped in the pandemic poverty of the Great Depression, the America of today would seem wealthy beyond comprehension. What he may not recognize, however, is that our good fortune is largely the product of his sacrifice.
It is up to us to remember that. Memorial Day exists as much to remind the living as to honor the dead. The real monument to those who gave their lives defending the United States is the nation they bequeathed to us.
America is their memorial. And that makes today a fitting time to enjoy it.