As flags and poppies blow in the wind, this Memorial Day our thoughts will turn to loved ones no longer with us. Recalling an Irving Berlin song from 1927, “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. spoke of the day we make “sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth” in a Memorial Day address delivered on May 30, 1884.
“Every year — in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life — there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. ... (We) have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away. But grief is not the end of all. ... Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death – of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring.”
Mr. Holmes acknowledged the losses of those who did not wear a uniform – the mothers, brides, siblings and parents left behind from the Civil War 20 years earlier. He would have no way of knowing, except perhaps from past history, that the U.S. military would be involved in some war or conflict in most if not all of the years to follow.
The pains of losses from decades ago still sting, as we are reminded by President Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam and Friday’s planned visit to Hiroshima. He is not there to apologize or antagonize, but to show goodwill. There is a growing desire to see nations move beyond old animosities. There is even a push among world leaders to see a global treaty that would ban the existence of nuclear weapons, just as we already ban chemical and biological weapons.
This Memorial Day, as we honor our veterans, let us also consider this proposal from social justice advocate Tony Magliano: “The best way to remember those who have been killed in battle is to work for the day when others will no longer be sent to take their place.”