I have been thinking of this – in these days leading up to Memorial Day – ever since May 8th, which was the 70th anniversary of V-E day.
“V-E Day” – for Victory-in-Europe Day – commemorates the day in 1945 when the Nazi forces laid down their arms throughout Europe. For all practical purposes, May 8th marked the end of World War II in Europe.
While the 70th anniversary of V-E Day received some notice, it was not as much as I would have hoped. More than 400,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen lost their lives during the war, with another 671,000 wounded. When I was growing up, with WW II’s huge import and loss of life still fresh in mind, I can remember annual V-E Day commemorations. Indeed, I recall, at a young elementary school age, my parents telling me on more than one May 8th, “Today is V-E Day.” And then taking time to explain its meaning.
I understand, of course, that as the decades pass, those most directly affected by WW II – or any war, for that matter – pass away too. And, among those still living, memories fade. This is only natural.
All the more reason why, on Memorial Day, it is well to recall Cicero’s injunction.
Or, for another way of thinking about the obligations Memorial Day imposes, recall Lord Acton’s statement that “history is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”
So, on Memorial Day, we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice not only in WW II, but also in all our nation’s other wars, right up through Afghanistan and Iraq.
You can usually find me on the Mall in D.C. on Memorial Day Weekend. I am always heartened to see – and to be with – the crowds gathered to pay their respects at the various memorials, with the World War II, Korean War, and the Vietnam Memorial all in close proximity.
If you happen to be visiting a memorial this Memorial Day, or just honoring those who should be remembered in your own way wherever you may be, it may be apt to recall what Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton said in eulogizing John Quincy Adams, who died in the chambers of his beloved U.S. House of Representatives: “Death found him at the post of duty and where else could it have found him?”
Wherever you may be, my best wishes for a safe and memorable holiday!