Today is Memorial Day. To the families of Americans lost in our nation's wars, every day is Memorial Day. To the family of Marine Cpl. Gregory M. W. Fleury, every day is Memorial Day.
It seems that each year, in the face of a holiday from work and the leisure activities it offers, we have to remind ourselves just exactly why we venerate Memorial Day. The day itself is the reminder of strength, resolve and sacrifice that our armed forces manifest in life and in death defending this nation. Why it must continue to be so should be in the hearts of all citizens who benefit from the protections afforded us by those who assume great risks as members of our military.
In the age of all-volunteer armed services, it is easy for Americans to regard such service as an abstraction: It's someone else's job; someone else will cover it. Financial or economic participation on an individual level, "sacrifice," is not asked of citizens to support a war effort. Indeed, Hollywood now blurs the line between entertainment and reality by having active-duty personnel star in movies such as "Act of Valor."
Perhaps that industry should consider making a major movie about the Korean War, "the Forgotten War." A war during which active combat lasted less than three years, that conflict cost approximately 37,000 American lives. Compare that with losses of 58,000 in the Vietnam War in 14 years. Can you imagine the number of families associated with those losses?
My only son, Gregory, assumed the risks and perished in Afghanistan. I prayed for his safety while he was deployed. I prayed for his safe return home but it was not to be. He is now deployed for a higher purpose. Memorial Day is every day in our family. I take comfort in my faith but I'd give anything for a few hours with my son.
Expressing the veneration of Memorial Day solemnly, poetically, even reverently, escapes the talents of most of us, given the plethora of well-worn phrases, clichés and speeches that characterize the day. Sincerity is not lost in this but the meaning of Memorial Day should not be lost to routine and ritual.
There have been so many wars, so many lost, so many affected families, that refreshing the intent, the meaning and the value of this special day is incumbent on all of us, and on more than just one day a year.
Donna Fleury is the mother of Marine Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury, a member of Ahtna Inc., and is secretary of the Anchorage Veterans' Memorial Committee, which aims to restore the veterans' memorial at Delaney Park Strip.