Pause, reflect, and be glad

Published 3:55 pm Sunday, May 24, 2015

I didn’t have the honor and the privilege of serving in our country’s armed forces. I think about this a lot when Memorial Day comes around because it’s our military veterans’ service – those who came home and those who didn’t – who gave me the pleasure of living the life I have today.

But there’ve also been times when the end of May rolls around with its anticipation of summer that I’ve wondered:  Who is Memorial Day really for?

There is a saying among veterans on Memorial Day, “Don’t thank me. Thank the one who didn’t make it home.” I certainly do and yet, I also think not only of the dead, whose stories are done, but of the living.

I appreciate the sacrifice of those who have passed on, but I look to the living to know that those sacrifices were not made in vain: that human inequality in America is an unacceptable legacy to those who died to keep us free.

Who is Memorial Day for? It’s for all of us. It’s for all of us to remember we enjoy our many freedoms because of a brave few who dedicated their lives to this country and who died way too soon. Less than one half of one percent of the population of this country serves in the military. Yet despite that small percentage we certainly have produced a lot of heroes.

This weekend begins another opportunity for gratitude. Memorial Day is a holiday that asks us to remember not just the lost heroes, but also the families they leave behind.

My father was a veteran. Even though he was never like those heroes I saw on Saturday morning television in the war movies I loved so well, he was the first one who made me appreciate the sacrifice of veterans.

My dad marched across Europe in the 1940’s to help free the world from tyranny.  He was an Alabama boy from those red-clay hills in the central part of the state that calls itself the ‘Heart of Dixie’.  Dad even attended TuskegeeUniversity (nee Institute), and when he answered the call to duty he did so at a time when most Americans thought of him as a second-class citizen.

If fighting for your country makes you a hero, then in my opinion fighting for a country that doesn’t offer you equality ought to make you a legend. No, he wasn’t one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military airmen in the U.S. Armed Forces, and he didn’t receive a lot of commendations during his active service.  But he paid the price, made the sacrifice, and laid the groundwork in my estimation for me to feel good about Memorial Day.

When you take those steaks, hot dogs, and ribs off the grill this weekend, or make that trip to the mountains or the seashore, mark Memorial Day with pride and remembrance as much as celebration.  We should feel honored when we see flags at grave sites that these are, but tiny tokens of tribute to the legacies of selfless souls.  Always remember that every action, every liberty, and every joy of your weekend was made possible, not simply because some fallen heroes died, but because such heroes lived.

So who is Memorial Day for? It’s for those of us who need to remember and just as much for those of us who should never forget.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7211.