Memorial Day Reflections: What Do We Owe?

Memorial Day is an American institution, but is marked around the world on other dates. Sadly, every nation has experienced war and suffered the  loss of those who served.

I was tempted to write about the Norwegians who fought against Hitler and his Nazi military machine. Some fought as Norwegian troops, stationed  and trained in Northern England. Others fought in secret resistance forces located throughout Norway. Still others fought by using their military and merchant ships to ferry supplies to the Allies and to shuttle forces into, and escapees out of, Norway through heavily mined and patrolled waters of the North Sea and beyond. It’s estimated that by the war’s end, more than 10,000 Norwegians had been killed, among them about 4,000 seamen.

OHARE Airport in Chicago, Illinois

OHARE Airport in Chicago, Illinois

But then I heard Scott Simon on NPR’s Saturday morning Weekend Edition. His programs are so consistently excellent that when I miss them I often listen to podcasts later. The programs are always entertaining and intelligent. Simon’s essays are often eloquent and inspiring, which was the case this week. The concluding paragraph of one on Saturday is quoted here:

Navy Lt. Edward O'Hare, for whom Chicago's O'Hare Airport is named.

Navy Lt. Edward O’Hare, for whom Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named.

“One and a half million passengers are expected to move through O’ Hare International Airport this Memorial Day weekend, and some travelers might want to hold a thought for the man for whom it’s named. He was a 29-year-old flier with a wife, a daughter and his whole life ahead of him, who, in the words of the citation on the Navy Cross, “gallantly gave his life for his country.”

I hope you’ll listen to the full piece, which takes less than three minutes. 

This weekend the least each of us can do is to pause and reflect on this story or one of your own choosing. Turn your thoughts to famous figures, a friend or family member, veterans of any war from the Revolutionary War to our Afghanistan, or even those who died representing other countries. Just do yourself and them the honor of setting all else aside for a few minutes to put their sacrifices at the center of your attention.

Then read this brief essay by a third grader, written for the last Memorial Day before 9-1-1.

Memorial Day
© 2001 Ali M., 3rd Grader, Academy Elementary School, Madison, Connecticut.

As the flowers rest on the decorated graves and the sunlight shines on the beautiful sailboats, Uncle Sam whispers in my ear about how we should care for the soldiers and remember the ones that have died. Swimming pools open, BBQs fry. Today is the day to think of what they have done for us. There are blurs of red, white and blue marching down the street and flags are lowered at half-mast. But we should always remember and never forget what set us free, from this very day on.

Well said, Ali, well said.


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