Memorial Day is a tough holiday for us to understand.
Many confuse it with Veterans Day. But Memorial Day is the day we remember those who died in battle. Some were killed in action, while others died from infection or disease.
Retailers have unfortunately cheapened Memorial Day as a time to sell mattresses, furniture or cars. There have been advertisements for weeks about sales events around Memorial Day. For some reason, almost every place that sells mattresses has the lowest price ever around holidays. Of course, it is the mattresses that will contour to you body, keep you from snoring and make you awaken fully rested to face the day.
Modern medicine has improved the survival rate for those with battle injuries.
I was watching the original movie “M.A.S.H.” and marveled how injured soldiers were basically strapped onto the skids of a helicopter and shipped off to the nearest field hospital.
Now, treatment begins the moment a medic arrives and continues on board a helicopter or ambulance. Unfortunately, we have seen an increasing number of military personnel who have lost one or more limbs and have returned home with the emotional scars of battle.
Beginning in World War I and continuing in the wars to follow, mothers displayed a blue star for each of their children serving in the war. A gold star represented a son or daughter who had been in battle. You didn’t have to walk far down a street to see a blue star or two hanging in the front window of a family’s home.
Too many times, a representative of the War Department would come to the front door and deliver the worst possible news.
“I have been asked to inform you that your (son/daughter) has been reported dead in (city, state country at time and date). On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I extend to you and your family my deepest sympathy in your great loss.”
It happened 1,937 times in Georgia in World War I, 6,781 times in World War II, 740 during the Korean War, 1,584 during the Vietnam War and 212 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those and the military dead of all wars involving Americans are whom we honor on Memorial Day.
Of course, it is appropriate to thank our living veterans. That’s a good thing to do on any day. It’s OK to remember those who served and are now dead. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
But in the days of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, we shipped boys off to war. As a country song says, they went off to Vietnam on their senior trip.
There were fresh-faced young guys who were 16 or 17 and may have lied about their age so they could serve. There were young men who had never ventured out of the mountain hollers or from the rural Georgia counties where their family farms were located.
They trained in boot camps at places such as Fort Benning, Camp Stewart and Camp Wheeler in Georgia. They processed in at Fort McPherson. By the way, it’s Mc-Fur-Son because there is no fear in McPherson.
And let me not fail to mention that we sent some of our finest trained women, some straight out of nursing school, to war zones around the world.
Some returned home in a flag-draped box and others didn’t return at all. It is they we remember on Memorial Day.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.