Monday, May 25, 2015


Today is Memorial Day. We are at war. We are always at war. Maybe we always will be at war. Maybe that’s our new normal as a nation and as a world.

Mostly old and mostly rich and mostly white men prattle endlessly as to how much we should be at war. They debate how to fight our wars du jour. They debate how many mostly young and mostly not rich men and women they are willing to put in harm’s war to serve our neverending wars. They prattle and they debate and they rage from their safe podiums so far from the realities of war.

Today is Memorial Day. A day when we honor those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our wars.

I used to write about Memorial Day almost every year. I don’t know why I stopped.

I think I need to write about Memorial Day every year. I long for the year I can write about it when we are not at war.

Here some of my Memorial Day thoughts from past years.


From 2004...

Memorial Day. It's a day to remember those who have died in service to our nation, those whose sacrifices should be honored on each and every day.

Today's column had to reflect this day, but it was hard for me to focus on our slain heroes through my anger at the administration which has so recently and fraudulently sent more than 800 young men and women to their deaths. This current war is driven by the greed of the rich and the powerful and not by any imminent danger to the American people.

Of course and sadly, there *are* wars that need to be fought. Our country was attacked; we must respond to that attack and defend against future attacks. Neither of those goals explains why we're in Iraq or why our soldiers are dying there. Still, this is not a day for such a conversation.

Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Dick Feagler, in that paper's Sunday edition, wrote of a young man who died in Iraq and joins the dead of earlier wars. His column concluded thus:

In the morning, there's a parade. Many of us sleep through that. We lie in bed and hear the thump of the drums from a high school band marching us to a place where some vets will tell us about the kids who have died for us. Somebody is sure to say that a lot of kids have given their lives for us. But my limited experience in war is that kids don't give lives for us. They give lives for each other. They are trained, our children, to try to save each other from the cauldron into which we have sent them.

All bravery really comes from that. When the Iraq kid gets to heaven, most of his friends are young men. He can search as he may, but he will seldom find anybody over 40. And he will never find a politician of the stripe that sent him there.

When we play taps tomorrow, even if some old guy is playing it, keep in mind that it's played for a kid. It always has been. The old folks wipe their tears, but maybe they ought to be more careful...more careful of the kids from the Marne and Anzio and, tomorrow, Iraq.

I can't say it better than that.

Memorial Day.

We honor those who have given their lives for our country by remembering their sacrifice. I think we also honor them by making sure we don't ask today's soldiers--or tomorrow's--to make similar sacrifice for anything less than the defense of this nation or to safeguard its most precious ideals.

If there be fault to be found in our military, I think it lies more with elected officials who don't embrace those ideals or even understand what they are...and those unwilling to adequately arm and compensate our troops...than with the men and women who serve in its ranks. That, too, is a subject we will discuss here in the weeks to come.

But, today is for remembering our war dead and thanking them for that sacrifice. It seems so utterly inadequate to express with words my admiration and gratitude for their acts. I owe them much, and, yet, this, too, is what they fought and died for.

Make War No More. We have to try harder.

For all of them. For the Iraq kid.

And for tomorrow's kids.


From 2006:

Memorial Day is a day for commemorating the U.S. men and women who died in military service to this country, although it has also become known for cookouts and the running of the Indianapolis 500. I get the "cookouts" part of it, such gatherings are reflective of the fellowship, ideals, and way of life for which our honored dead made the ultimate sacrifice. It's the cars racing around a track at absurd speeds and at great risk to their drivers that throws me. Then again, I also don't get the whole "climbing a mountain because it's there" stuff. Some sports are just stupid.

Though I make light of some of the ways we Americans celebrate Memorial Day, don't think for a moment that I would ever make light of the tremendous debt we owe those who died in our name. When we stand humbly before their graves, concepts like "good war" or "bad war" are insignificant. These men, these women, died for us, died for our nation. It was a debt we can never truly repay.

Which doesn't mean we can't try.

Now and always, we must equip our soldiers with the tools and equipment they need to complete the tasks we set before them and to complete them safely. We must make sure their personal needs and those of their families are met.

We must give them clear and moral justification for the tasks we set before them. We must not send them into combat unless the danger to our country is clear and imminent. We must not send them into combat in the name of commerce or expediency. Their lives are far more precious than the bottom line or some political advantage. And we must absolutely hold our leaders responsible for failures to command our troops justly and wisely.

I am not an isolationist. There are innocent people suffering in many lands. I can accept our soldiers being deployed to provide humanitarian aid and protection to those innocents. But, always, always, with the highest regard for the safety of the men and women sent on these missions.

Those we honor on Memorial Day gave us the very best they had to offer. We owe them no less than ours.


From 2008:

Memorial Day is one of those holidays I don't entirely get. Now before anyone accuses me of not supporting the troops, I will quickly add that I most definitely do appreciate the sacrifice our fallen soldiers made on behalf of all of us and honor them for it, and I haven't even once threatened to veto legislation that would give our living veterans a college education and the other benefits anyone with a conscience would readily see they deserve.

Dozens of cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. President Lyndon B. Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace some four decades ago, but the notion of honoring one's fallen soldiers really seems to have originated in the South. Which was sort of problem for me, since the Confederate ladies were placing flowers and flags on the graves of Civil War dead, men who died trying to protect slavery. But, as we have now seen thousands of American soldiers die for President George W. Bush's despicable agenda, it becomes manifest that we can not and never should blame soldiers for the wars our leaders inflict on them.

It also bothers me that Memorial Day has been transmogrified into "Memorial Day Weekend," a celebration of cookouts and other entertainments and pleasures. There's been a bill hanging around Congress for a decade which would do away with the "last Monday of May" celebration and switch the holiday back to its traditional May 30 date. The traditional date would make for a more solemn day and I can see the value in that.

However, I can also see the value in celebrating the sacrifice of our fallen by doing some of the more positive things that define our way of life. We can have those cookouts and other pleasures of the day because of their sacrifice.

Conflicted as I may be, I'm certain our soldiers, both living and dead, deserve our respect and our thanks. We should remember them every day of the year, but most especially on the days when we vote for the leaders who will hold the fates of present and future soldiers in their hands.


From 2009:

Memorial Day.

This is the day we honor our American men and women who have died in military service. The first Memorial Day was for soldiers who died during the Civil War. It now honors American casualties of all wars and military actions.

There will be speeches and parades. There will be visits to the local cemeteries where our fallen lay. At national cemeteries, volunteers will place flags at each soldier's grave. Flags will be flown half-mast until noon with a moment of remembrance at 3 in the afternoon. All these gestures are fitting and proper.


The best way to honor our war heroes is, as a nation, to live up to the sacrifice they made for us.

They died for their buddies next to them, for their families, and for America at its best. They sure as anything didn't die for politicians or political agendas, or for bloated corporations and equally bloated CEOs.

Some of those buddies, some of those buddies who died and some who lived because of the sacrifices of their buddies, were gay. It isn't even a matter of debate. It's fact. Gay men and women have served in our military, have served honorably in our military, and have died in the service of our country.

It's obscene that the United States of America, the nation by which all other nations are judged, does not allow gay Americans to serve openly in the military. Their blood and their lives, their commitment and their sacrifice, only differ from those of their fellow soldiers by dint of their being forced to deny who they are to serve. If not this Memorial Day then by the next, our President and our Congress must end the military's discrimination against gay Americans. We need their service and skills more than ever as we face enemies radically different from any enemies we have faced in the past.

They fought and died for their families. It's equally obscene that many members of those families have seen their jobs lost due to corporate greed, have seen their jobs leave our country and go overseas, have watched the architects of these deplorable practices earn enormous paychecks while their corporations crash and burn and ask for billions from the citizens they have failed.

They fought and died for our better angels. For the America that educates its children, works to ensure decent health care and housing and nutrition to its citizens, labors to treat all of our people with fairness and justice, does not demonize Americans for their race, religion, or sexuality, and certainly doesn't demonize them for media ratings or political gain.

Honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day. Honor them with the lowered flags and the parades and the speeches and, of course, with our prayers. And then...

Honor them every other day by building and sustaining the kind of America for which they made the ultimate sacrifice.



The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 ended the DADT policy and allowed gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces. It was signed into law on December 22, 2010 by President Barack Obama. As of September 20, 2011, following certification and implementation of repeal, DADT was no longer U.S. policy. Neither our country nor the world came to an end.

The Act survived two filibusters attempts by Republicans. When it came to a vote in a Senate, every one of the “no” votes was cast by a Republican. No Democrat voted against the act.

It gets better. It gets better because it has to get better if we are to make our world a better place.

It needs to get better faster. Especially for those men and women who serve in our armed forces, no matter their race, gender, creed or sexual orientation, it needs to get better.

Honor our fallen heroes. Help make things better.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

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