Monday, May 26, 2014, was the officially designated national Memorial Day. Ceremonies were held everywhere — in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a city settled after the Civic War in a Deep South state, and In Norcatur, my ancestral home on the High Plains of northwestern Kansas, settled by Yankees and Southerners, after the Civil War.
At those ceremonies, as well as others across the country, citizens honored veterans of all wars and remembered those who gave their lives.
U.S. citizens do very well at bestowing these honors and remembrances. Year after year, since Memorial Day was first observed, those conducting such ceremonies have done a fantastic job if it. If you watched the National Memorial Day Concert on public television, you saw a ceremony with noted public servants, actors and musicians making moving tributes, both musical and spoken.
The current Atlantic Magazine has an article recalling what was perhaps the original Memorial Day, an observance started by a few women in Columbus, Mississippi. Those women decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers as a means of promoting reconciliation. Decorating the graves, then, was a means to an end.
Now, however, it all seems to be about honoring veterans of all wars. In my family, the traditional Memorial Day observance at Norcatur, is about honoring veterans, but it is also about remembering our predecessors and about maintaining strong ties with current members of the extended family, wherever they live – Deep South, northeast, west or Plains states. (Those traditions, I hope, are closer to the original intent of the founders of Memorial Day.)
Honoring veterans who have given so much – and those who have given everything – is very important. We need to do that, but we also need to do more to address the goal of those who started this.
At Memorial Day, it might be more appropriate to address reconciling with veterans by helping them get what they’ve been promised – medical care and assistance with assimilation back into society. Those very veterans we honor at the ceremonies are all too often forgotten the next day at the VA treatment centers. There also is the question of decent paying jobs for veterans.
Other groups also are looking for their rightful place in this country. Folks in the LGBT group, for example, are just now starting to acquire rights to marry and be recognized as married in the eyes of the law. Unfortunately, this acquired status is happening through court action primarily, not through legislative process. And, in the very recent history of this country, the outbreak of HIV/Aids virus and the death of thousands of vulnerable citizens was neither recognized nor addressed with appropriate resources in a timely way by local, state or federal governments.
In addition, this country has been extremely reluctant to deal intelligently with the question of undocumented residents. Many think that this group is comprised totally of those who’ve entered the United States by sneaking across the border with Mexico. The fact is that thousands of them are Europeans, Asians, Africans, etc. etc., many students or family members who came to study or visit and never left.
And what about women in the military, business and public organizations and in politics? We must not have addressed reconciling with that group or otherwise they would get equal treatment, i.e., wages, advancement and justice.
Society as a whole needs to reconcile with women and who they are and make sure they receive equal opportunity and compensation for the positions they hold. In addition, the vast majority of Americans of every size, shape and color needs to be paid a decent wage for the work they do and the jobs they hold, one that allows them to provide decent housing, food and other necessities for themselves and their families. We can’t continue to allow major companies to pay pitiful wages instead of decent wages.
At this time in our history, there is a gulf between national government and the citizens. Representative government – Congress — is not willing to address any of the serious issues facing us all nor are they willing to work toward narrowing any of the gulfs that separate them from us and us from each other.
On Memorial Day we should remember what its goal is. We should be honoring those who’ve served our country by working toward reconciliation among all groups and within groups. The national government should be leading that effort.
Reconciliation requires tolerance and acceptance. It requires each of us to accept the fact that every one of us is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and privileges. It is not a matter for governments, religions or other institutions to decide. Rather, it is for them to support basic rights for all.
Let’s truly honor those who’ve served or given their lives for the country – let us step up, reach out and say to each other, “Yes, I accept you as a human and citizen who has the same rights as I do.”