Americans partied and picnicked Monday, relaxing at the end of a three-day weekend marking Memorial Day. But millions of them also paused to remember and to honor those who’d lost their lives in military service.
“The grief that many of you carry in your hearts is a grief I cannot fully know,” President Obama said at Arlington National Cemetery. “This day is about you and the fallen heroes that you loved, and it’s a day that has meaning for all Americans.”
“It’s natural when we lose someone we care about to ask why it had to be them. ‘Why my son? Why my sister? Why my friend? Why not me?’ These are questions that cannot be answered by us,” Obama said. “But on this day we remember that it is on our behalf that they gave their lives. We remember it is their courage, their unselfishness, their devotion to duty that has sustained this country through all its trials, and will sustain it through all the trials to come.”
Earlier, the President and Michelle Obama hosted a private breakfast for Gold Star families who’ve lost loved ones in war, then laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Typical of Memorial Day events around the country was “Singing for Soldiers” at the Columbus Veteran’s Park in Polk County, N.C. Gospel, bluegrass, and other musical groups performed as organizers gathered care packages for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President, has been working with Mrs. Obama on the “Joining Forces” program in support of service members and their families.
“As a military mom, I know that a simple act of kindness can make a difference in the lives of our military families and veterans,” Mrs. Biden said in a statement Monday. “Whether you offer to babysit or carpool, or just take a moment to say thank you, everyone can do something to support our service members and their families.”
While most peoples’ minds may have been on the war winding down in Iraq and the one still hard-fought in Afghanistan, earlier conflicts were noted as well.
At the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, the names of five soldiers were added to the black granite wall naming those lost – bringing the total to 58,272. Among them was Army Spec. Charles Sabatier of Galveston, Texas, wounded in 1968 in the Tet Offensive. He died in 2009 as a result of his wounds.
Social media played a role in the sharing of thoughts about war and the losses that result.
On Facebook, Air Force veteran Doug MacKenzie posted videos of “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by Eric Bogle, and Liam Clancy singing “Green Fields of France.”
For Peter Harvey, a young soldier in the Americal Division in 1967-68, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” set to images of the Vietnam War seemed appropriate to the occasion.
Jim Clare, who’d been a US Navy fighter pilot, recorded and posted his own Civil War song “Old Train Coming.”
Rusty Sachs, who flew helicopters as a young Marine Corps officer in Vietnam, sent his old military buddies poetry – “The Solitary Reaper” by William Wordsworth.
“Wordsworth said it well,” he wrote. “Have a great day with family and friends, and remember those no longer with us.”
In Oregon, Bill McMillan and his wife Kim Shelton have produced a documentary film chronicling combat vets – from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – expressing their experiences in poetry and other art forms.
They see “The Welcome Home Project,” as they call it, as an important way for civilians to connect with veterans dealing with combat issues, including post-traumatic stress.
“Contrary to what seems to be the conventional wisdom that most of us couldn’t ‘take it’ or ‘understand it’ if we are told the truth, we have seen audiences willingly step into the pain shared by the vets and their families and embrace it and them with wide open arms,” McMillan says.
“We civilians are capable of much more than the media apparently believes,” he wrote in a Memorial Day email to supporters. “All that means is that we are all human, more alike than different.”