Memorial Day

I thought I’d repost this from the archive:

We came across a lad from A company. He was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said: ‘Shoot me’. He was beyond human help and, before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. And the final word he uttered was ‘Mother.’ I remember that lad in particular. It’s an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind.

-Harry Patch, The Last Fighting Tommy

No one wants to die. However gung-ho they may be, the instinct to survive is ingrained into our very DNA. It is a will so strong it can bring the near-terminally ill back from the edge of darkness. The success of any military depends on this—upon the willingness to kill rather than die. The men who struggled up the beaches of Normandy and through the fields of Gettysburg knew that their only chance of survival was in defeating the enemy. But to march into the fire meant being willing to die regardless of your desire to live. The willingness to sacrifice oneself means overcoming billions of years of evolution. Animals may do this for their young; only humans can do it for a cause, for a nation and for people they have never met.

I hope that during your drinking and barbecuing yesterday, you took a moment to remember what the day was for. The men who fell in our names would not mind the drinking and eating that happens on their day; they would doubtless wish they were there. Perhaps there is no better way of honoring the dead than to enjoy the life they have given us. But we should never forget that they are out there—silent, sleeping, shielding us even in death.

One thing we have learned is that not all of those who fall do so on the battlefield. Some carry wounds that eventually claim them: Lawrence Chamberlain lived to be 85, volunteered for more wars, became governor — all while enduring pain from his war wounds and eventually dying from them. Others carry their wounds inside: the haunting memories and searing trauma that drive so many to take their own lives or to bury their pasts in drink or drugs. All around us today are those who are slowly dying from the wounds they took for us, the soul-scaring terror they endured for us, the eyes of those they had to kill for us. Come some Memorial Day, we will be remembering them too.

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  1. Mississippi Yankee

    Today I saw a picture of a young wife prostrate before her husband’s tombstone at Arlington Notional Cemetery . The caption read: MEMORIAL DAY – In case you thought it was national BBQ day.
    This crusty old devil dog experienced some facial leakage at that point.

    As much as I liked your Tommy story then and now I was reminded that Memorial Day is about American’s fallen warriors. From all the wars we fought, not just the ones we agrees on.

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  2. Mississippi Yankee

    Memorial Day

    On Sunday’s Atlanta Urinal and Constipation, they had an article about the origination of Memorial Day. Two Southern cities, Columbus Georgia and Columbus Mississippi take the credit. They’re been fighting over this for years. Who knew? I didn’t grow up in the South.

    According to the AJC, Memorial Day came from ladies in the two cities who would decorate the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers. This practice started in the two cities back in 1866. After a while, they started decorating the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers. This Decoration Day, evolved into today’s Memorial Day. Now I know why my mother and members of her generation called Memorial Day Decoration Day. Depending on your age, you may have parents or grandparents or great grandparents who still call it Decoration Day, just like previous generations call
    Veterans’ Day = Armistice Day.

    Shamelessly copied from

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