JACK SPENCER: Memorial Day Is About ‘Right Now’

Each Memorial Day we honor those who were willing to sacrifice full measure in service to our nation. It is a day set aside so that in the midst of our busy, hectic lives we will pause and be reminded that the freedoms we enjoy were won with courage, tears and blood. Remembering this reality is important. Honoring its true meaning is of greater significance.

In a deeper sense Memorial Day represents a pact between the past and the future. As citizens of the United States of America, all that we have was obtained and has been defended at a very high cost. However, the story would be incomplete if it were allowed to end with that single reflection. 

Vigilance, bravery, and perseverance are not hallowed ideas of bygone years. They should not and cannot be confined to the mists of collective memory. These are words of action; concepts of the present; and principles that speak of protecting the future.

It is not enough to remember and praise those who faced the fury when freedom and liberty were perceived to have been hanging in the balance. Knowing they have fallen and knowing the cause for which they risked their lives; it is left to us to take up the banners they carried. That task is our responsibility and accepting that task is how we honor their memory. 

The sacred pact we renew with our remembrance is in recognizing that time is an artificial barrier. Freedom and liberty is never secured. They are endangered every decade, every lifetime, and every era. There has never been a period; not an hour or minute, when it could accurately have been said: “They are not being threatened right now.”

The danger facing us “right now” is always the most fearsome. The obstacles in our way “right now” are always the most daunting. All that’s at stake “right now” is always of the greatest value. This is so because “right now” the outcome is in doubt; there are no foregone conclusions and total defeat is a possibility.

Through the eyes of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy and those whose planes took-off from aircraft carrier decks in the Battle of Midway, the risk was a “right now” answer to a “right now” threat. 

Whether the soldiers were those in the Argonne Forest of 1918 or those in Afghanistan 90 years later, their fight was a “right now” struggle; their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice a “right now” choice. At Pusan, Korea in early 1950s, near Da Nang, Vietnam in 1967 and in Iraq in 2003, to the American forces in harm’s way, it was a “right now” situation, fraught with “right now” dangers.

It does not matter whether history judges the war, battle or police action as necessary or unnecessary, vital or unjustified. In the end what counts is that the price they paid was given on our nation’s behalf. And in the end, our nation is nothing less than our people and their ideals, history, all that has passed and the lives of those who have passed can seem cold, distant, and lifeless. 

Yet, all who perceive it as such miss its key element. For the fabric of the present has been woven with the thread of history. 

A portion of this thread is symbolized by the Memorial Day flags at the gravesites of the men and women who put their lives on the line when facing their “right now” moments of peril.

Their lives are what we celebrate, their sacrifice is what we remember and their purpose is what we treasure “right now” and will treasure in the years to come.

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.