Day of the dead
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was started specifically to commemorate Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. Americans slaughtered hundreds of thousands of each other between 1861 and 1865. This is the appointed time of year to turn our minds to that horror and resolve to never let it happen again.
But Memorial Day isn’t just about the Union dead. It was extended long ago to include all soldiers killed in the Civil War and then, after World War I, all U.S. soldiers killed in all wars.
People tend to loosen the definition even more, saying it is a day to remember all those who have died — “especially” rather than “only” in war. That’s not necessarily wrong, in our view.
At the very least, we would include those soldiers who may not have died in the war zone but whose deaths have to do with their wartime trauma.
This includes veterans who died as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers has a special residence for veterans, dedicated to preventing more of these deaths. One that comes to mind recently was Justin Ropke. According to heartbreaking essays written by friends of his, published in this paper, Justin experienced horrors while fighting in Afghanistan on behalf of all Americans, and then self-medicated with heroin. He died of an overdose earlier this year in his Saranac Lake home.
We also include the many veterans who have committed suicide. One example is Australian army Capt. Paul McKay, who traveled across the globe to Saranac Lake in winter and let hypothermia take his life atop Scarface Mountain, for reasons he carried to his grave. On average, 20 U.S. veterans commited suicide every day as of 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
We pray for them today.
We also pray for the innocent civilian victims of war around the world.
So many have died from so many wars. We must remember the joy of their lives and the pain of their deaths. We must tell their stories. We must also work and pray for our nation to be wise, good and brave going forward, to avoid such conflicts in the future — or, if they are truly unavoidable, to fight them honestly and justly, with the best character that is in us.
We should remember we are still a nation at war, even though we haven’t acted like one in decades.
Of course, we have strong feelings and opinions about something as critical as war. Memorial Day, however, is a time to set those aside and simply think of the dead — especially those who fell because they defended this nation.
Today, we’re asked only to remember.