Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Memorial Day is a day to say thanks
May 21, 2008 Cottage Grove Sentinel Opinion Page Editorial Memorial Day is a bittersweet holiday. It is not a frivolous holiday. It is the day we honor the memories of the tens of thousands of men and women who lost their lives in gory, grinding battles in service for our country: i.e. you and me. It is a day to reflect and remember. It is a day to say “thank you” to guardians whom we have never met. It is a day of sorrow. Once upon a time, the observance of Memorial Day was truly a solemn day of mourning. It began as a day to honor the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers. Every year on May 30, entire families spruced up cemetery gravesites with flowers and flags. Businesses closed for the day; parades were held and long-winded speeches were given. Freedom’s memories were shared through stories handed down from generation to generation. Then, in 1971, more than 100 years after the original Decoration Day, Congress got the not-so-bright idea to change things. They changed the official May 30 Memorial Day to a revolving date. Tradition was shoved aside and trumped in favor of a three-day weekend holiday. The observance now falls on the last Monday in May. Somehow that action watered down the spirit and true meaning of the day. We stopped showing respect. Frivolity became more important than meaningful reflection and the offering of prayers. We found other things to do with our time. And little by little, many of us forgot that freedom — past and present — isn’t free. It always comes at a cost. Blood is always shed in wartime. It matters not whether the hostilities are during the American Revolution, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Haiti, Bosnia, the cold war with Russia, Afghanistan or Iraq. Loss of life is inevitable. And then came Sept. 11, 2001. It was quickly followed by battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Suddenly patriotism was back in vogue but this time with a twist. Bloodshed had been expected in other wars but not now. Media hype or delusional thinking seemed to convince us that SHOCK and AWE would overcome body counts. It wasn’t so. The shock was that so many flesh and blood human beings still died. Today, all eyes are on the Middle East. Next to Vietnam, Iraq is probably the most controversial war of the last 50 years. Unlike other wars, the casualty rates are somewhat lower due to modern technology but combatants on both sides of the conflict are still tragically killed, maimed and wounded. Parents lose sons and daughters; spouses are widowed; children are orphaned; the nation loses future greatness. Yes, it is always the soldier who pays the ultimate price and bears the brunt of battle. The government that sends them goes on but the individual life is snuffed out. Therefore, it should always be the soldier who is honored for his or her sacrifice. Oregon does this well. As of this writing, there have been 104 Oregon fatalities in Operation Enduring Freedom and the War in Iraq. Gov. Kulongoski, who attends as many of the funerals as possible, says that he is humbled by each person’s courage and grace. He considers each one a patriot and is forever thankful for their belief in duty, honor and country. The governor’s staff has compiled information about each Oregon service member’s death in Iraq. The site is called “Oregon’s Most Honorable.” Those honored range from 19 to 45 years of age and died in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Four of the young men killed served with the Oregon National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 162 Infantry Regiment of Cottage Grove. The first three were killed in an ambush in Baghdad’s Sadr City when assailants used an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenades Col. Richard Meyers, chaplain for the Oregon National Guard said of these men, “There was nothing about them that was average. These are young men worth commemorating, to say the least.” Sergeant Justin Eyerly, 23, died June 4, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. He attended South Eugene High School and his hometown was Corvallis. He worked in web design for the Portland Trail Blazers. Specialist Justin Linden, 22, died June 4, in Baghdad, Iraq. His hometown was Portland and was survived by his wife Sarah. At his funeral, Gov. Kulongoski, Linden’s family, “The people of Oregon wrap their arms around you…Together we have lost a wonderful and courageous young man. First Lieutenant Erik McCrae, 25, died June 4, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. He attended Tigard High School and his hometown was La Grande. His wife Heather survived him. He was a mechanical engineer who had graduated college in two years with degrees in math and physics! Specialist Eric McKinley, 24, died June 18, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq. He attended Philomath High School and his hometown was Corvallis. His fiancée Coventry survived him. He was described as the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Just seeing the faces and reading the bare bones descriptions of these young servicemen who gave their lives, is humbling. They had so much to live for but they died in the line of duty, following orders and protecting their country. Like so many others, it was their duty to go and do and ultimately die. It now falls to us who remain to hold high a torch of gratitude and keep it brightly burning. May we always be a grateful community and show our respect for the sacrifice of all eras. We must never, ever forget!