EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally ran just after Memorial Day 2019. However, despite (and maybe, even more so because of) the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the essential theme has not changed. And it bears repeating.
By now, the gatherings and happenings of the just-passed Memorial Day weekend are still fresh on the mind but soon headed for our unruly stack of memories, slowly fading.
By now, the grill has been cold for days, and any leftovers are likely already gone from the fridge.
By now, those of us that enjoyed a long weekend out of town are home again and several days back at work.
It may seem like the time to look forward to the next holiday, our next celebration, our next vacation.
Instead I want to linger on the one we just had for a while.
Decoration Day begot Memorial Day. A day to recognize and honor the Americans before us who paid the highest price in service of their country.
The ultimate sacrifice. They died for us, so that we may be free.
So how do we honor those men and women? What do we do to celebrate such a somber occurrence? Given the celebrations, laying of wreaths and parades, do we do enough?
How can we repay them?
The answer is complicated, and yet it’s simple.
The first and biggest step is to stop making it something we do just once a year. It should be a part of our lives every day.
And then the second step is to be worthy of their sacrifice. How to do that is a little less clear.
I’ve seen that sentiment on social media and T-shirts in the past week.
And I think some of the people I’ve seen it from might disagree with me on exactly what that means.
It’s not about being more patriotic. It’s not about supporting the military. Although those things aren’t necessarily bad.
It’s not about being more “American.”
It’s about being a better American.
We should do the things we can do as Americans to make America better. We should be good citizens.
First of all, we should be informed. And we should vote.
We should hold our elected officials – from our towns and counties to Congress and the White House – accountable. Right or left, Democrat or Republican, we should hold them to the same standards. And we should insist they follow the law.
We should be vigilant so that we don’t require the same sacrifice these soldiers made frivolously. We should question our leaders vigorously any time they want to send our troops into harm’s way. It’s our responsibility. Our leaders work for us.
And when our men and women in uniform come home broken, we should address their needs adequately and promptly.
But our responsibilities shouldn’t just be toward our government and our military.
We should take care of those who came before us, our elderly.
We should care about children, even those that are not our own.
We should help and show empathy toward the sick, the mentally ill, the homeless and the poor.
We should give blood. We should give to charity.
We should care about our environment.
We should speak out when there is wrongdoing, racism, bigotry or greed.
All these things seem idealistic. Maybe they are.
But they can be done. And they can be done every day, even if in small doses.
And they will make this country a better place, and the people will be better for it, as well.
And that’s how you repay them. That’s how you honor them.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.