Memorial Day gives us a chance to honor our protectors

Flags were flying in yards, public places and across the local cemetery when I looked out my window during the recent Memorial Day festivities. I suspect more flags were waving from boats, tents and vacation cabins as Americans celebrated the first long holiday weekend marking summer 2006.

We seem to be torn between honoring those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms and our prosperous way of life and enjoying the fruits of those freedoms and lifestyles. I had lunch with a veteran friend before the holiday and talked a little about current American attitudes about the men and women of the military.

Most of us recognize that the last war heroes welcomed with open arms on their return home after the end of hostilities were the World War II vets. Few take time on Memorial Day to remember those who lie in the rows of graves in France marked by American flags. June 6, 2006, marked the 62nd anniversary of the troops landing on the Normandy beaches in 1944.

Memorial Day began in 1865 to honor the dead after the Civil War, the most difficult war in our history. More soldiers died in that conflict than in any American war before or after. Some of the scars are not yet healed, as seen in current conflicts over the Confederate flag and the continued observance of Confederate Memorial Day in some states.

Flags were placed on 20,000 Union and Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery in the first national observance in 1868. Far more died in the Civil War and graves are scattered across the U.S.

War has always had detractors, and General Sherman described the one common factor when he said, “War is hell.”

I wonder if this country has ever had more divided feelings than exist today? Vietnam marked the rise of public disgust with war, and Iraq, with the advent of instant communications, has created more tension. War was hell when Sherman first made his statement, but “hell” was not visible 24 hours per day seven days a week in our living rooms.

But, do we really need San Francisco’s elected officials advocating the end of all armed forces in the U.S.?

Do we need protesters at the funerals of our fallen? Do we need professors at our law schools attempting to force armed forces’ recruiters off the law school campus because the professors believe war is unacceptable? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against them 9 to 0. Some college officials from Princeton to the West Coast have forced Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs off campuses. High schools have followed the lead.

Bad things happen in war, and some of our soldiers do terrible things. If that is a reason for disbanding our armies, then why not disband all local, state and federal police forces? Sometimes cops do bad things. We punish them and honor the vast majority that do the right thing while protecting the community.

Bad things happen in our domestic prisons, but few would advocate closing all of them and turning the criminals loose in the community.

Some countries around the world have evil rulers that would enslave the world. Napoleon, Hitler, Hirohito and Attila the Hun were not the last of the evil leaders. Armies protect us from such evil just as the local police officer protects our neighborhoods.

What I enjoy today was passed down by those military dead that gave their lives beginning with the Revolutionary War. The honor we give them is a tiny part of what they deserve.

General John A. Logan declared Memorial Day in May 1868 “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country ... and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.”

The day began at the grassroots in our communities and celebrations came from the heart. It was not until 1971 that the federal government caught up with the citizens and made Memorial Day a national holiday on May 30.

I am proud to live in a community that continues a traditional local celebration to recognize the honored dead from the military.

I wonder what they do in San Francisco?

Window Pain

I was encouraged by news reports that the Vietnam vets are joining various veterans’ groups biking to Washington and taking on the mantle of the WWII vets. Maybe time has healed much of the controversy surrounding the Vietnam vets when they returned home. We owe them an apology. Both WWII and Korean vet numbers are dwindling and I salute the Vietnam vets taking on the responsibility.

I am thankful that the U.S. military can now depend on volunteers to fill the ranks. That is another good reason to honor and respect those serving in Iraq and around the world.