Paynesville Press - May 22, 2002

Community Perspective

Remember those who gave it all

By Robert Bowden

As we prepare for Memorial Day 2002, this country once again has young men and women in harm's way on foreign soil. Our nation has changed significantly since last September. Indeed, the world has changed since then.

Memorial Day should have a new meaning and greater significance to younger Americans. As a nation, we have now spent many months solemnly mourning the lives of more than 3,000 American service members and civilians who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, more than ever, we recognize what it means to honor the lives of those who die in service to our nation.

This first war of the 21st Century is being fought differently than our previous wars. It was evident from the beginning that this war would be like no other we have experienced.

This war is more personal than our previous wars. Here we have an enemy not representing an entire nation, but representing only evil. Instead of trying to occupy land mass or displace our military forces, the enemy wishes to destroy the very existence of America, and of other civilized nations, cultures, and religions.

This is a new concept for our country. It did not begin with a declaration of war by Congress, although Capitol Hill did authorize the use of all necessary force required to stop the terrorists. Flexibility and commitment will determine how well we as a country can weather this storm.

America's military has already demonstrated it is prepared to meet this challenge. From precision air strikes to special operation troops riding horseback in the mountains of Afghanistan, we've seen the best of our military remain flexible and committed to the mission. Will our civilian population be as flexible and committed as our military? Can we distinguish between blind patriotism and health patriotism? Blind patriotism leaves no room for a difference in opinion, beliefs, or lifestyles. Healthy patriotism focuses on love of country but values differences, compassion, and acceptance.

Where and when this war on terrorism will end is still to be determined. It probably will not end with the surrender of armies and ceremonies on the deck of a war ship. This war could be compared with the Cold War because of its anticipated duration.

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on our freedoms and the sacrifices it took - and will continue to take - to keep our country great.

Originally called Decoration Day, this honoring of our war dead is one of the oldest national holidays. The first formal observance can be traced to 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, the country's first veteran's organization, designated May 30 as the day for decorating the graves of the military personnel who fell in battle.

The roots of this celebration go back even farther than that. Five years earlier, in 1863, a number of women in Columbus, Miss., began the tradition. The women noticed the unkept graves of Union troops, and they cleared those areas and laid flowers in place.

Soon the tradition spread to other communities, and the basis for Decoration Day was established.

Although the holiday originally came about to honor those killed in the Civil War, it took on a broader meaning over time. Eventually, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and it became a time to remember those who died in all wars.

Memorial Day is filled with many public events. Parades, speeches, and wreath layings are some of the things we as a nation do to commemorate this day.

Memorial Day is also a private time for many of us. A time when we put faces, voices, and memories to those names on memorial walls and grave markers. A time when I think about those friends of mine who will always be 19 years old.

I would like to end this with a quote that I got from the Minneapolis Tribune many years ago: "When you hit the beach this Memorial weekend, don't forget those who made it possible. You've got your lawn chair, your sunscreen, your Bill of Rights, your cooler, your Freedom of Speech, your windsurfer, your fishing pole, your Freedom to Assemble, your beach blanket, your volleyball, and your Freedom of Religion. So take a moment to remember the people who gave up all of that, so you can enjoy all of that."

Bowden served in active duty in Vietnam and retired from the United States Army Reserve as a Command Sergeant Major.

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