Memorial Day was set aside to remember those who did not survive and came home in a box, if they came home at all.
I’ve lived long enough to remember the World War I veterans who would ride or march in a Veterans Day parade.
My dad was a veteran of World War II. In his 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” Tom Brokaw chronicled the great contributions of those who served in World War II. Both of my mother’s brothers and one of my dad’s brothers also served in the war.
I go to a good number of funerals. We are quickly losing our World War II vets and it is indeed a sad occasion.
There were 16 million Americans, mostly men, who went off to war from 1941 to 1945. According to the latest information, there are less than half a million still living. Most of them are in their 90s.
Not far behind them are those who served in the Korean War.
About an hour’s drive from here is the Georgia National Cemetery. It sits on a 775-acre site between Canton and Cartersville. It opened for burials in 2006. The Veteran’s Administration estimates that it will have burial and space for cremated remains for about 50 years.
Scott Hudgins, who developed a number of malls and other developments around Atlanta, donated the cemetery site.
It sits atop a mountain and you can see the mountains in one direction and Lake Allatoona in the other. It is a beautiful place.
To me, it is awe inspiring to walk along the headstones and see where these veterans served. Many of them were honored with medals that are also noted.
In my childhood, we had only the three basic networks on TV. Every night, there was coverage of the war in Vietnam. We watched it as it happened. The number of people who watch an entire newscast these days is few. We have a generation that knows we have some enemies, but have not been exposed to the repercussions of battle, including the death and serious injury of our men and women in uniform.
Somehow, we must find a way to educate the public about the cost of our freedom. As much as it inspires me, there are few people who will go and take a stroll through a cemetery, military or otherwise, and see the markers of those who served and even gave their lives in battle.
That’s what Memorial Day is all about.
We have turned it into some kind of jumpstart on summer. How quickly can we load the car and head out to the beach or mountains? We have also turned it into a gigantic car and mattress sale day. I think all of our patriotic holidays have evolved into a commercial enterprise.
Sadly, not only are those who wear the uniform of our country largely unrecognized, but also we now have thousands of police officers and deputy sheriffs who take a tremendous chance every time they step out of their patrol car. What once was a routine traffic stop can now become an encounter with an armed thug.
I occasionally see a bumper sticker with the mantra, “All gave some. Some gave all.”
We need to think about that, especially on Memorial Day.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.