On this Memorial Day, the very first words we should say are “Thank you.” For all veterans, of all times, who wore the uniform; who pledged to serve their country, even to the ultimate sacrifice; who set aside home, and job, and school, who put plans on hold and goals on the shelf in order to defend our freedoms and protect our nation. We may disagree with the war they fought; we may believe their service was ill-used by those above them; on this day, it doesn’t matter. For anyone who tries to serve our country honorably by protecting her, the first words we say are and should always be, “Thank you.”
The next words on this Memorial Day should be — silence. When someone pays the ultimate sacrifice, there are no words, on this day or any day, that are adequate. Speeches will be made, essays will be written, songs will be sung — all part of our fumbling attempt to give back, to honor, to repay the debt. We need to try, both for our own hearts and as a corporate reminder of what this day means, but we all know that, in the end, we will fall short. A moment of silence and self-reflection on the meaning of this day may be the best way to honor our fallen fellow citizens.
We can’t stop there, though. There is one more word on this Memorial Day, and that word is — “Act.” It is not enough to speak our thanks, or think our thoughts. We must take action, as well:
- Act to support today’s soldiers by more than a magnet on the car. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have a list of ways you can help, including sending gifts to troops overseas, helping troops get supplies they need, and supporting military families. Click through, pick one, and do it.
- Act to make sure our returning soldiers have the care they need and deserve. Give to the Bob Woodruff Foundation to help soldiers returning with brain injury. Sign the petition for more funding for Vet Centers. Join the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that raises money for wounded and disabled veterans.
- And finally, act to become an informed, involved citizen. Be wary of easy platitudes and simple solutions — from either side of the political aisle. Find reasonable, intelligent people and learn from them, even if you disagree. Learn the right questions to ask, and insist on answers. Then stand up for what you believe: write letters, make calls, sign petitions, attend rallies. Be a citizen, not an observer. These veterans served, and were wounded, and died, so that you could do that. Honor them by exercising the freedoms they protected.
On this Memorial Day, may we all be thankful for what we have been given. May we find a way to show that gratitude through tangible actions we take. And may we set aside our differences, for one day, and simply reflect on the idea that is America, and the sacrifice so many have made for that idea.