HANRATTY: This Memorial Day, Let’s Remember Our Forgotten War Dead
It’s Time to Recognize Every Life Lost Defending and Progressing America
I’m hardly one who would lament the widely held notion that Memorial Day is the “Unofficial” Kick-off of summer. Not in the least. In a nation where we’re over-worked and underpaid as a general rule, anytime you can take a break for a couple of days and kick back, fire up the grill and pack a cooler is fine by me, no matter how solemn the occasion is on the books.
For most of my life, Memorial Day Weekend has been one of the highlights of the calendar every year: A perfect storm of availability, invitations, and indulgences that have led to some of my more memorable and enjoyable life experiences. This doesn’t overlook the fact that we celebrate Memorial Day for a reason, but if you’re capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, I don’t see any reason why you can’t celebrate and remember over the span of 72 hours as well. This year, in fact, I’m making a conscious effort to do so.
Historically, Memorial Day (or its predecessor Decoration Day) has been a day where we honor our War Dead: men, women – and yes, children, who have given their lives in the pursuit of American liberty. We remember those who gave it all so that we could freely grill those burgers, deep-fry those Twinkies, blast that Springsteen and pour that frosty Pale Ale. Men and women who frankly, have more courage than I’d have in ten lifetimes.
But there’s a popular misconception that we’re all prone to believing and that’s the notion that all of the wars fought to make America what she is today were fought on the battlefield, in defined military conflicts, against enemies foreign and domestic. While these sacrifices should never, under any circumstances, be diminished, they do not account for all of the blood that has been shed in the name of forging that More Perfect Union.
Our Original Struggle has Never Ended
The US of A has been fighting wars since the Shot Heard ‘Round the World and continues to do so today. On top of the ongoing conflicts against terrorism, we continue to fight the same war that it seems some have been waging since the last signature on the Declaration of Independence had dried: The War on Intolerance. We did not evolve from a confederation of states ruled solely by white land (and people) owning Protestant males to a Superpower that has elected African Americans, women, religious minorities and members of the LGBTQ community to just about every office in the land by accident. Skulls were broken. Blood was spilled. Necks were cracked. These sacrifices are no less important than any other.
For every Battle of Trenton, there was a March on Selma. For every Stonewall Jackson, a Stonewall Inn. Each Ulysses Grant yields an Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Every Normandy, a Haymarket Square. Okinawa. Los Gatos.
Regardless of your political beliefs, we must never forget the bravery of the 5,000 Americans that we have lost in service this decade. Likewise, teach your children about the 5,000 Americans lynched for simply existing.
‘Think Not Only of those Who Lie Beneath a White Cross, but Those Who Died in Front of a Burning One’
Reflect on the all-too-short lives of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. The former, a local African-American civil rights worker in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The latter two, college kids from Jewish neighborhoods in New York, that traveled down to Lauderdale County to simply register local voters. All three were slaughtered at the hand of the Ku Klux Klan in their early twenties. They died to ensure that the most fundamental of American rights: The Right to Vote would be guaranteed to all, not the select chosen.
This year, think not only of those who lie beneath a white cross, but those who died in front of a burning one.
Think of the 146 people, primarily women, who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire — a sweatshop that was criminally negligent in the most basic of safety regulations, so much so that management locked all doors during work hours. Their deaths paved the way for a revamping of workplace standards that we enjoy today.
Likewise, never forget the collection of workers who died during organized rallies and strikes – often at the hands of private security firms backed by management – demanding fair wages, a 40-hour workweek, and suitable working conditions. Think long and hard about this the next time some bigwig, or the politicians in their pocket, chides “lazy unions”.
Read up on the 1948 plane crash at Los Gatos, California – where 30 migrant workers perished while being deported back to Mexico, not coincidentally AFTER their services in the fields were needed. In the era of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, their story deserves to be told and remembered now more than ever. We still use undocumented workers for every ounce of sweat they can produce while demonizing them as a political scapegoat, to the point where we might as well change the inscription on the Statue of Liberty from “Give me your tired, your poor…” to “We’re Building That Wall, Folks”.
Pause to remember Matthew Shepard this Memorial Day. Matthews was a college student who was fatally beaten, tortured and strung up on a fence. Simply for being gay. The grisly slaying brought to light the gross, Nazi-like hatred that the gay community still faces in modern times.
More recently, remember the 15 Emergency Medical Technicians, 23 members of the NYPD, 37 officers of the Port Authority, and 343 souls from the FDNY who gave their lives so that thousands more would survive the 9/11 attacks. They proved that despite the caricature, working class Americans stand ready on a moment’s notice to serve the greater good – and at the end of the day, it’s not the politicians, nor the management that’s responsible for our safety, security, and education – it’s your neighbor.
I’m obviously leaving off thousands of people who gave their lives for rights that we take for granted. And again, this is in no way to diminish the ultimate sacrifice given to this nation by the brave warriors from Lexington & Concord to Fallujah – and all parts in between and across the globe – not only for American liberty but for that of the entire human race.
Much like the glorious melting pot that America is today, the rights and freedoms we enjoy today were provided by a diverse collection of people who would not take “No” for an answer, the miniscule minority willing to walk the walk. People of all faiths, genders, orientations, ethnicities, races and political ideologies have stepped to the front of the line when history came calling. Most of them braver than you or I could ever imagine being.
On Memorial Day, we remember each and every one of them.
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