Featured Story

Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Memorial Day 2024

Three years ago in August, 13 members of the American military were killed outside an airport in Afghanistan as the United States was ending its 20-year-long war in that nation.

At the time, the news of the deaths at the airport became a political firestorm, where tactics and strategies by our leaders for the exit from one of America’s “forever wars” became an opportunity for pundits and politicians to scourge their opponents.

Lost then, and hopefully not now, were the 2,459 other comrades-in-arms who died in Afghanistan, including First Lieutenant Joseph Theinert. This Memorial Day, we should remember them, and all of those who, as Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

On Memorial Day 2009, President Barack Obama gave a eulogy: “If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they console us? Perhaps they might say that while they could not know they’d be called upon to storm a beach through a hail of gunfire, they were willing to give up everything for the defense of our freedom; that while they could not know they’d be called upon to jump into the mountains of Afghanistan and seek an elusive enemy, they were willing to sacrifice all for their country.”

Officially sanctioned ceremonies for remembering the war dead go back at least as far as Homer. The genesis of our own Memorial Day is murky, with different places claiming to be the first to officially memorialize those who died in battle.

One place to start is in 1868, when a military order came down to place flowers on both the Union and Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

A few years ago a reporter from this newspaper visited the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale. He came upon Roberto Gonzalez, a Vietnam veteran, and a caretaker of the cemetery, working alone in the aisles of white marble, washing and polishing headstones. Mr. Gonzalez said that when cleaning, “I like to do it by myself. Do it right.”

Asked where he would be on Memorial Day, he answered, “Here.” The caretakers of national cemeteries don’t have long weekends, because by law the cemeteries can’t close for more than 48 hours at a stretch.

“People say ‘Memorial Day, oh, a day off, great beach day, shopping,’” Mr. Gonzalez said. “But you know, most people don’t know why they got this day.” The vet pointed to the grass at his feet. “This right here is why they got it.”

We’re lucky, for many reasons, and one is that Shelter Island hasn’t forgotten what Memorial Day signifies. Come to the parade on Monday and enjoy the beginning of summer with a free barbecue provided by the Lions Club.

And come to bow your head, and remember all who died serving their country, and their families, who carry on bravely without them.