The parades are over, the flags furled and the bunting back in the box. Memorial Day 2011 has come and gone and for many the short-term memory of the day will be how heavily it rained in the morning and how wonderful the weather was the rest of the day.
The holiday could never match the lure and luster of its older and bigger sibling, the Fourth of July. With fewer veterans of World War II — the men and women of “the greatest generation” — left to share in the observances, Memorial Day may not seem as big deal as it once did. But numbers can be deceiving. We have among us those who fought in Korea, Vietnam, two Gulf wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. The lives and sacrifices of the soldiers and sailors who died in those battles are equal in value to what was so valiantly and selflessly given, and lost, at Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Iwo Jima.
What truly separates this Memorial Day from those of the past is our holding dear the memories of the many who never put on a uniform but died in battle nonetheless. The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is just a few months away, and the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden, the man behind it all, added a new element to the reason we celebrate Memorial Day. Many of those who died that day did wear uniforms, the police officers and firemen and members of the military who perished at the Pentagon. But most wore business attire and never imagined that a day at the office could prove fatal.
No, they didn’t wake up each morning with the knowledge that danger and a real risk to life come with the job. Still, they died in a carefully choreographed and executed attack. It may seem unfair to some that civilian deaths appear more onerous than the loss of service personnel, but such is the nature of this 21st century war — a war based on ideology, not nationality — that has everyone, not just those carrying weapons, in the cross hairs.
War has changed and so, too, must the way we remember those lost in war.