Today is Memorial Day, a day when we honor the sacrifice of military service members who died in defense of our great nation. According to Wikipedia, the holiday originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions were celebrated on different days until they merged together and Memorial Day was extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
This day holds special meaning to me as a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, but also because of the service of other members of my family. My family has served in the armed forces dating back to the Revolutionary War. My 5th Great Grandfather, Phillip Bailey, served in the Virginia Militia. Then there’s my 3rd Great Grandfather, John P. Bailey, who served in the Confederate Army in the 22nd Virginia Infantry, 1st Kanawha Regiment, under the command of George S. Patton, the grandfather of World War II General George S. Patton. My grandfather, William E. Davis, was a Parachute Rigger on the USS Bataan (CVL 29) during World War II. My father, MSGT William R. Piggott, USMC (Ret.) did two tours in Vietnam during his 22-year career. I can also include my mother, two uncles, a cousin, my brother, sister-in-law and a nephew who served in the Navy and Marine Corps. We are a military family.
Most of the people of our great nation strive to honor the heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, but there are some who seem to resent the military. They burn or step on the flag as a form of protest to our government, forgetting the fact that it was our veterans who put their lives on the line to ensure they have the freedom to do that. People want to tear down war memorials because the represent the racial strife of the past, ignoring the men and women who died on both sides of war.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Those words were spoken by George Santayana, a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. It’s not surprising that writers are the ones who not only record such historical events, we also provide analysis, observations, and insight. As writers, we are the caretakers of our heroes, villains, and the history they create through their actions.
Our veterans sacrificed so much, in war, in peace and in defense of freedom around the world. They deserve our respect and our undying gratitude for the sacrifices they’ve made. Just to put it in perspective, since 2001, there have been 2,229 deaths and 20,904 casualties in Afghanistan and 4,488 deaths and 36,710 casualties in Iraq. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a conflict that cost us more than 58,209 deaths and 211,454 casualties. These numbers just keep rising the further we go back in our history.
So please, as you’re barbecuing or enjoying the sun and fun this Memorial Day, please take a moment to remember our veterans whose sacrifice gave us our freedoms in the U.S.A.