Memorial Day has become the first celebration of summer. We have big car races like the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600. We flock to the beaches, or to the mountains, or to campgrounds. We’ll cook out and have picnics. There will be big sales on all kinds of things. We’ll take a long weekend to hang out with friends and family. These are all good things.
I feel, however, that the real reason for the holiday is getting further and further removed from the American consciousness, and that is not a good thing. Fifty years ago, most everyone knew someone who had gone to war and not come back. A brother, a cousin, a classmate. One in ten Americans served in World War II. Now that number is much smaller, and very few Americans personally know someone who died in service to our country. That's something to cheer about, for what it's worth in some respects - owing to the relatively small scale conflicts we've fought since Vietnam and the exponential improvements in battlefield medicine that has improved survival rates to where they are today. That said, because of that lack of connection to the sacrifices of so few, the meaning of the holiday has been watered down.
Memorial Day is not a day to thank a Veteran or for their service (that’s Veteran’s Day) or salute the military (unless tied into Military Appreciation Month).
It’s a day to remember the men and women who have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we have. The freedoms that that should never be taken for granted and the sacrifices never forgotten.
So I ask that this weekend you take a moment of remembrance, maybe have a discussion with your kids, or raise a toast to the fallen. If you don't know anyone personally, maybe learn the story of someone from your community.
For me, I’ll be remembering PFC Dan Bullock, the youngest American to die in Vietnam. I came across his story a few years ago and it is heartbreaking. Dan altered his birth certificate to appear older when he joined the Marines at age 14. He was originally from Goldsboro, a small town in eastern North Carolina. He moved to Brooklyn, New York when he was 11. He was killed in Vietnam a month after he arrived in-country on June 7th, 1969. He was 15 years old.
Look at that kid...so young.
As a Veteran, I wish Dan was now one of the old guys that come to the Veterans events in Charlotte. Or hanging out at the VFW and having a few beers and swapping stories. I wish I could hang out with him and hear his story. I wish I could meet his wife and grandkids. I wish so much for this young man that never came to pass.
As a parent, I cannot imagine my son, a year older than Dan was when he died, going off to war, or the loss of him not coming home.
The loss of a parent, a spouse, a child to war is the bittersweet undercurrent that should always run through this holiday for me. My ask of all of us is that we take just a moment to celebrate the sacrifices of Dan and so many others.
My wish is for all of us peace. Thanks for reading.
The Rivet Group is a Veteran-owned recruiting and consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina.