Memorial Day struggles to keep its original meaning, but the day has recovered some of its essence because of the number of dead Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan this last, long, bloody decade.
Even though President Obama ended American involvement in Iraq and is withdrawing from the Afghanistan quagmire, the disaster of the Bush years of a ground war in the Middle East — thousands of deaths and injuries, two wars put on the credit card — will take at least a generation to overcome.
Still, the meaning of Memorial Day has faded for most Americans, with fewer and fewer towns and cities even bothering to hold public acknowledgement of veterans, let alone parades.
Officially sanctioned ceremonies for remembering the fallen go back at least as far as Homer and are present in every culture. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural speech gave the country direction in the aftermath of the Civil War, and a clue to how future generations should act: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive … to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …”
It’s been said that a society should be judged on how it treats its oldest and youngest citizens. One more judgment should be on how veterans are treated.
By that measure we certainly haven’t done enough, if you consider the scandal that’s emerging of ill treatment of vets at some veterans hospitals. Why the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs still has a job is unfathomable.
The unemployment rate for veterans who have served since 9/11 stands at 10 percent, while the overall American unemployment rate is 6. 3 percent.
Unemployment for many veterans means the bottom has fallen out, with the government reporting that on any given night in America, close to 60,000 veterans are homeless. This has improved, according to the Congressional Research Service, from a high of close to 200,000 veterans on the streets in 2006, and has dropped 24 percent since 2010, but still …
We’re lucky here, for many reasons, and one is that Shelter Island hasn’t forgotten what the day at this crossroad of seasons signifies for us and for veterans and their families among us.