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Memorial Day weekend is upon us. This is the day we honor those who died wearing the uniform of our country. This holiday is for our “Gold Star” families.
A “gold star” refers to a small service flag that was invented and approved by the Department of Defense during World War 1. The rectangular flag with a white field and a red border with up to five blue stars in the field signifies family members in the military. I have one with three blue stars for my son and daughter and son-in-law who are in the military. When a “gold star” is displayed instead of a blue one, that signifies a family member who died in the line of duty.
The service members we honor on Memorial Day were ordinary people. They came from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities that I believe are a hallmark of growing up with the values, morals and ethics that are commonly found here in Nebraska. They possessed courage, grit, pride, determination, selflessness and dedication to duty and integrity – all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.
I often wonder though; are we still doing a good job of instilling these virtues in our young people today? How do we teach someone how to recognize something bigger than themselves? What is it about ordinary Americans that makes them run to the sound of the guns and respond to mortal danger in such extraordinary ways?
It worries me to see just how disconnected ordinary Americans have become from our Armed Forces. Most Americans today don’t have a personal relationship with anyone in uniform. Statistically, that’s understandable; less than one percent of the population have actually served in the military.
A majority of Americans today can’t look at a map and identify the countries where American soldiers are currently fighting and dying. Many can’t even identify the branches of the military, or explain the relevance of the wars we’ve fought, or the importance of the freedoms we enjoy as a result. Wars today require essentially no sacrifice from the civilian population, and therefore the average person has very little understanding of what is going on. If a person doesn’t understand something, there’s little chance they will appreciate it. Through no fault of their own most Americans no longer have a powerful sense of gratitude for all the blood their fellow countrymen have sacrificed for them. I feel the growing absence of this gratitude is a clear and present danger to our American culture.
I think President Reagan understood this danger. He once gave a Memorial Day speech that ended with a challenge for his audience.
He said, “I can’t claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don’t know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does:
Does that flag still wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
I think the best way for someone to honor a fallen American soldier is to take a moment this holiday weekend and teach a young person about all the sacrifices made on their behalf. People who forget history are doomed to repeat it.