It is Memorial Day in the United States, and our plastic society makes it easy to think the holiday is set aside as the start of summer, or a day for beer and barbecue or even to thank a veteran.
But it’s not.
Luckily, there’s Marine Corps veteran Jennie Haskamp to remind us what Memorial Day is about: “It’s not Veteran’s Day. It’s not military appreciation day. Don’t thank me for my service. Please don’t thank me for my service. It’s take the time to pay homage to the men and women who died while wearing the cloth of this nation you’re so freely enjoying today, day,” she writes.
For Haskamp, it’s personal.
I’ve attended more than 75 funerals and memorial services since September 11th, 2001. Services for men and women I knew personally, or knew of before they died. Men and women who were friends of my friends. People who’d eaten dinner at my house.
Husbands of my friends. Sons of my friends. Brothers of my friends. Sisters of my friends.
Men who served with my friends. Men who died with my friends. Men who were my friends.
I’ve visited their graves at Arlington, in Florida, California, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland – and I owe a visit to a grave in Maine.
But it should be personal for all of us, because even if we don’t know someone who made the ultimate sacrifice, we certainly benefit from the freedoms that sacrifice won. Even the freedom to work to make sure that kind of sacrifice need never be made again.
Haskamp is frustrated – her column carries the provocative headline, “I’m a veteran and I hate ‘Happy Memorial Day’ – but that frustration is understandable:
I want to see people besides the small percentage of us who are veterans, know veterans, love veterans or lost veterans, understand what the day is about. It’s the one day on the American calendar meant to exemplify what it costs to be American and to be free . . . and we’ve turned it into a day off work, a tent sale and a keg of beer.
It’s not like this everywhere. In the spring of 1991 I spent some time studying in Russia and the Baltic states and was there for Victory Day, May 9, when they celebrate the end of World War II in Europe (V-E Day is celebrated on May 8 in the West; the Soviet Union signed the peace treaty with Germany on May 9). Victory Day in Russia is not commemorated with an auto race. There are no sales, because shops are closed. It is a day of mourning, a day to visit the cemetery and the memorials.
At the memorial in St. Petersburg to those who died during the siege of Leningrad, there were hundreds of people, many of them moving one-by-one to place flowers. And yet there was utter silence. No one spoke. At the cemetery, where thousands of people are buried in mass graves because they were starving to death faster than they could be interred, the scene was similar: Silence. Prayer. Tears. Remembering.
“We lost 20 million people in this war,” our guide explained. “We don’t consider that a victory.”
So take some time today to remember the 1.3 million American soldiers who’ve been killed in battle. Pray for their souls. Pray in thanks for the freedom to pray. Pray for the safety of those who serve.
And pray for the day when those sacrifices are not needed.
Two kinds of service
Memorial Day is also a great day to remember Fr. Emil Kapaun, who could become the first person ever to be both awarded the Medal of Honor and achieve sainthood.
Kapaun [pronounced Ka-PAWN] was an Army chaplain who served in Korea; he died in a Communist prisoner of war camp. But not before stirring the men he served with his dedication.
“The military chaplain did not carry a gun or grenades,” The Washington Post wrote in 2013 as Kapaun was about to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. “He did not storm hills or take beaches. He picked lice off of men too weak to do it themselves and stole grain from the Korean and Chinese guards who took the American soldiers as prisoners of war in late 1950.”
Kapaun’s ministry meant so much to the other POWs that they immediately began calling for him to receive the Medal of Honor as soon as they were freed. The priest from tiny Pilsen, Kan., has been declared a “servant of God” and the Vatican is investigating his cause for sainthood.
Kapaun has been the subject of several books and an eight-part series in The Wichita Eagle.
The Rev. John Hotze led the formal process of assembling the case for the chaplain’s sainthood, The New York Times reported.
“Even when I was doing the preliminary investigation, I said to myself, ‘There’s no way this guy isn’t a saint,’ ” Hotze told the Times. “He represents all these things we need in our age – willingness to serve, willingness to commit, willingness to be selfless.”
Narrowing the gap
I’m a numbers geek, and some of my favorite stories I’ve done over the years have involved data analysis and number crunching.
So naturally I love the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, where they crunch Catholic numbers. But this nugget was especially fascinating: Mark M. Gray, in response to a poorly sourced New York Times column, looked at the gender gap in pay within the Catholic church.
What he found is that while there is, indeed a pay gap – but it’s smaller than the one in the Obama White House. Oops.
“Overall, when one includes all paid staff including clergy, vowed religious, and other lay persons, women earn 11 cents less than men per dollar earned (or $2,560 fewer dollars per year),” Gray writes. “Although a gap still exists, the situation in the Church is apparently better than in the White House or the country as a whole.”
Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.