Remember Them All

Posted: May 28, 2007 in Acceptance, Compassion, Homelessness, Veterans

The very first Memorial Day was observed on May 30th, 1868.

General John Logan wanted to honor fallen Civil War veterans and ordered that their graves be decorated with fresh flowers and flags as a way to memorialize their service to this country. Every year thereafter, on May 30th, this custom was celebrated, until around 1971, when most states adopted the federal "schedule" of observing federal holidays on Monday.  

I like the idea that our nation has set aside a day to memorialize all of the men and women who have given their lives in the defense of this country and the ideals under which it was born. It is something that we should do, if for no other reason than we owe our freedoms to them.

One of the gripes I have is that to most Americans Memorial Day is just a day to have picnics, sit back and watch some sporting event on television, or countless other things that people do on holidays. We’ve forgotten why we celebrate Memorial Day in the first place.

What makes it more poignant, are the numerous vehicles I see around town that have a magnetic "ribbon" that proclaims: "Support Our Troops."

Doesn’t part of supporting our troops involve the acknowledgement of what all of those who have gone before have sacrificed? I wonder just how many graves of fallen solders will be tended to this year? More to the point, how many will not be tended?

There are men and women in various parts of the world, who on this Memorial Day will be facing another day in harm’s way. And – although I hope not – some of them may lose their lives. Next Memorial Day, will we forget to honor them?

But, there are also other veterans who are being forgotten.

According to statistics that I’ve been able to gather, this year there will be approximately 500,000 homeless veterans. The larger portion of them have seen active duty. And, more than half of them will be forced to sleep outside, on the streets of cities all across our nation each and every night.

What is more, there are currently many active duty veterans, who upon receiving their discharge, will be homeless within the first five years of coming "back to the world." Some will even become homeless immediately upon discharge because, for them, the military is the only home they know.

Considering how badly homeless veterans are being treated, not only on the streets of our own community, but all across our country, how will those who return from service in Afghanistan or Iraq be treated? Will they be forgotten as well?

I know that Memorial Day is about honoring the memory and service of veterans who have been killed in the line of duty, but for those veterans who are currently homeless, having to living on the streets is worse than a death sentence.

As one veteran friend of mine said to me:

"I went away to war to become a hero, but I came back to the world and was turned into a zero."

For those veterans who have to spend it living on the streets – that sentiment says it all.

Let’s remember them all.

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