What do you have planned for Memorial Day? Heading to the shore or mountains for a few days of rest and relaxation? Inviting friends and family over for some barbecue? Reading a good book from the comfort of your favorite recliner?
Here’s an alternative for you to consider: Go visit a memorial honoring those who died so we may have choices on our national holidays.
Although now synonymous with the opening of community swimming pools and the final stretch of the school year, Memorial Day’s central purpose remains to remember those Americans who have died in military service--more than 400,000 in World War II, 53,000 in Korea and nearly 60,000 in Vietnam.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 6,700 U.S. military members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including nearly 200 who called Virginia home. In addition to the casualties, more than 50,000 have been wounded during America’s long-running war on terror.
This year’s Memorial Day marks the 13th consecutive year we’ve been at war—the longest stretch in U.S. history. Even with end of the Iraq War, and the drawing down of the Afghan conflict, the emergence of countless new hot spots across the globe continues to strain members of our military and their families.
During the next few days, many Americans will travel hundreds of miles to experience the sights and sounds of Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend. They’ll fly in from places like Iowa and Indiana, or drive up from small towns in North Carolina and southern Virginia to pay their respects to the men and women who fought and died for our freedom.
Most Fairfax residents live within a 20-minute drive of Constitution Avenue. Have you experienced those same sights and sounds? Have your children? And neighbors?
The chill of the glittering blackness of the Vietnam Memorial wall. The anguish of the Women’s Memorial. And the stark feeling of the Korean War monument so raw that you almost can feel the rain and cold, even on a sweltering 90-degree day.
To really experience the ravages of war, walk among the stones at Arlington National Cemetery. Row after row of small tablets, bearing the names of men and women who died in battle. Be sure to check the birth and death dates. Far too many of the stones and crosses honor soldiers in their late teens or early 20s who stood at the cusp of life when they went down.
All gave some, some gave all. Stop to honor them for a few minutes; say thank you; and go off and enjoy your freedoms.