Memorial Day is a big deal in our house. My husband, R.J., is a Vietnam vet who lost two close friends in that war. He is also a military history buff and reveres all those who gave their lives for our country because he understands fully what that entails. So, the bunting and the flags fly on the house, and we take note of special remembrances in the media as well as in our community. Even though the real Memorial Day is this coming Saturday, we observed the official one this past weekend.
We usually watch the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC; a great way to stir the patriotism within and to hear some outstanding talent. This year was no exception. Chicago's own Gary Sinise is the perfect host for this program as he gives so much of his time to veterans' charities.
The most poignant moments of this telecast were two-fold. First, a dramatic reading (eloquently performed by Dianne Wiest and Katie Holmes), recounting the struggle of a mother and sister of a severely injured Iraq vet. The sacrifices and devotion of these two women are gifts to our country, just as much as his service. The second was presented by Colm Wilkinson, the well-known British actor/singer, who sang "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables". He originated this song in that now infamous musical, and its powerful lyrics fitted the occasion. I was reminded of a story about the reaction by the cast of the musical, when Colm performed the song for the first time. The director told the cast that this prayerful song was to be added to the show and he wanted Colm to sing it for them. When he had finished, one cast member remarked, "You said it was a prayer. You didn't say you were having God perform it." He was right about that. If you can listen to him sing it and not cry, you have no emotion in your soul.
One other special story touched us this weekend. A story in the Chicago Tribune entitled, "A Day To Remember" by staff reporter Bonnie Miller Rubin. She gave an accounting of a trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C. by World War II vets to visit the memorial there that is dedicated to their service. This is made possible by a non-profit organization called Honor Flight Chicago that was started last year to take WWII veterans to Washington. The men were particularly touched by the special send-off and welcome back they received, even more so than the visit to the Memorial itself. As one man put it, "All these bright, young faces - it's overwhelming." One traveler, who had been signed up for the trip by his son, was lukewarm to the idea initially. He thought, "Why do I need to see a monument? But it turned out to be one of the best days of my life." Another said, "It wasn't until this trip that I thought, maybe we did do something pretty great after all."
What's important to note here, I think, is that our men and women who have put themselves in harm's way for us deserve every "thank you" and accolade we can personally give them. Just watching a parade on this day, or hanging out a flag isn't enough. Remembering those who have died for our country is what Memorial Day was created for, but thanking those who survived, while they are still with us - and some of them don't have much time left - is another way to honor those who are already gone.