May 23, 2024

Memorial Day in a Moment of Conflict

Mark Valentine

Mark Valentine

Throughout my professional journey (from service in the US Air Force to continued service from the private sector) my reverence for the sacrifices made by our service members has only grown. On Memorial Day, I hope we will all take a moment from our lives to remember those who gave theirs.

This tradition dates back to the conclusion of the US Civil War, a conflict that brought an unimaginable loss to the nation. The post-war era was marked by profound grief and the monumental task of healing a fractured nation. On this backdrop, Decoration Day was birthed by the organization for Northern Civil War veterans, not as a celebration of victory, but as a solemn remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price. It was first observed on May 30, a date chosen precisely because it marked no particular battle, and therefore symbolized a commitment to national unity over division. It was a magnanimous choice—the Union, though victors, chose reconciliation over triumphalism.

Today, Memorial Day weekend often conjures images of backyard barbecues, the onset of summer, and bustling gatherings with family and friends. Amidst the festivities—a well-deserved moment of respite and joy—it's vital to carve out a moment for reflection. As we enjoy the freedoms so dearly won, let’s pause to honor the brave men and women who made these moments possible. A moment of silence, a visit to a memorial, or simply sharing stories of their bravery can serve as poignant reminders of their sacrifices.

We once again find ourselves in an era of stark divisions, both internally—politically, socially, and culturally—and on the global stage, marked by geopolitical tensions that threaten peace. On this Memorial Day, the human race mourns yet another generation of lives lost in conflicts around the globe. The question of how future generations will remember us hinges on our responses to these challenges. Can we find ways to reduce the horrors of war? Or, more importantly, can we rise above, find common ground, and prevent conflicts altogether? Our legacy could be defined by our ability to defuse tensions, to foster dialogue over discord, and peace over war. The goal must be a future where the toll of military sacrifice is drastically reduced, where fewer families are left to mourn.

children learning about the history of Memorial Day (circa 2010).
My children learning about the history of Memorial Day (circa 2010).

As we reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, let us commit to being agents of peace and unity. Let’s strive to be remembered as a generation that, faced with profound division, chose to innovate for reconciliation and peace, honoring the legacy of those who fought for our tomorrow. May we continue to find strength in our shared humanity and the common values that unite us as a nation. I wish you a Memorial Day of enjoyment and peace. At some point during the weekend, please pause - be still - and remember those who never made it home.

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