For most Americans, Memorial Day weekend marks the triumphant return of summer: a trip to the beach and a day off of work - barbecues, beers and bargains. Yet, as most Americans head to the beach or the mall, many veterans and military families will travel to a cemetery. For veterans, there is no day of the year when the civilian-military divide feels greater. On Memorial Day, it feels like we are citizens of two different countries.
This holiday should be a solemn day of remembrance for the more than one million American service members of all generations who have given their lives in defense of our country, including the 5,454 men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a humbling occasion to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. But unfortunately, the significance of the day is often lost under the coolers and beach blankets in the trunk of the car.
It's been over thirty years since I took off the BDUs, and with each passing Memorial Day, I wonder if we will ever again witness the entire nation pay tribute to those who have served and those who have fallen.
With the elimination of compulsory military service, the concept of shared sacrifice in the defense of our country has beaten a hasty retreat from our consciousness. This laissez-faire attitude has been created surreptitiously, as the all volunteer military has shifted the burden to only those who choose to serve (and their loved ones) while everyone else is insulated from what it is the armed forces does in our name on a daily basis that obliges us to spend this one day - one day - honoring and remembering.
President Obama is spending the long weekend in Chicago, rather than in Washington, and I hope that he finds time to publicly pay tribute to our veterans, specifically the brave souls who have lost their lives in the service of their nation.
Paul Rieckhoff implores you:
Take a moment this Monday to pause and pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. Every American can pledge to help make Memorial Day the day of remembrance, not the day of mattress sales. Even if you're at the beach, you can take a moment to pause with your family and teach your kids what Memorial Day signifies. You can teach yourself and your family about what it means to serve your family, your community, and your country.