Making its way around social media is an American Legion post with a photo of a whiteboard where someone wrote:
Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday of May) – for those who currently wear the uniform
Veterans Day (November 11th) – for those who used to wear the uniform
Memorial Day (last Monday of May) – for those who never made it out of uniform
My dad, Robert Guy Burnor, was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He retired in 1976 as a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force after 26 years of combined military service. He died in 2001 and is buried in the Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
Fort Snelling has more than 225,000 interments. Last year, volunteers placed American flags at every headstone for the first time in 35 years. I believe it will be done again this year.
Even though Memorial Day explicitly honors those who died during active military service, acts like these and other symbols of remembrance effectively include veterans who died after having served earlier in their lives.
During my dad’s service, he received the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Readiness Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal, among other military commendations. My mom served for three years as well and met my dad when they were both stationed at the Selfridge Air Force Base in Mount Clemens, Mich.
Their time in the military largely happened before I came around, and I grew up hearing tales of an adventurous and interesting life together. But they largely kept hidden their deeper stories of war, alcoholism, separation. I wonder if their faith ever wavered. I wonder about the depths of moral injury they and their friends may have suffered.
For many Americans, this weekend is more about the unofficial start of summer. It’s a time for getaways, gardening, the Indianapolis 500 or NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, and big blow-out Memorial Day sales!
As a child of a military family, I have a complicated relationship with the armed forces. All that I and so many are wrestling with is more than can be shared here. America’s staggering military budget, our role in provoking and supporting conflicts around the world, the proliferation of guns, the militarization of police, the ignored moral costs on generations upon generations of individuals and families, the lives that were lost and that were damaged — just a snapshot of what’s also bound up in a proud legacy of duty, patriotism, honor.
I don’t have a good, easy ending to this blog post. Perhaps one thing we can do is really pause and take in the symbols of this weekend — the red poppies, the cemetery flags, the parades and the speeches. To stop and make real the full lives of the people we’re remembering. To wrestle with real and complex issues connected with this holiday. And yes, to weep.
— Rev. Terri