Generally you can divide holidays into those that we cleave to their meaning — and those we fudge.
Our summer bookend holidays — Memorial Day (tomorrow) and Labor Day (this year, Sept. 2) tend to be pretty fudgy, and we’re not just talking about tourism.
We know there are deeper meanings to these wonderful gifts of three-day weekends that transition the season and school year, but perhaps we don’t fully connect to their meaning.
For Memorial Day, it’s not all that surprising given how few of us have actually served in the military — only 7 percent of us in 2017 Census Bureau numbers. This number is declining — active duty numbers were 3.5 million in 1968 (Vietnam draft) to 1.3 million (or less than 1 percent of the adult population) today, and the Veterans Administration projects this trend will continue.
Then take that small number and divide it by how many veterans have been in combat ... the old rule was to divide servicemember statistics by 10, with the belief that it takes nine people to support one combat fighter.
Divide that further by the fact that today we honor people who are no longer here.
Because Memorial Day is not about barbecues, three-day weekends, tire sales or even veterans in general.
Memorial Day is specifically dedicated to those who died in combat in the U.S. Armed Forces.
We often gently chide people on this day to remember, remember, remember who it is for. Organizations around town help us by placing flags everywhere you look, and hosting beautiful and somber memorials and parades.
These reminders are for the civilians; our veterans need none.
But we’re losing our veterans in more than combat — we’re losing them to time.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, just 496,777 were left in 2018, according to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics.
June 6 will be the 75th anniversary of the largest seaborne invasion in history — the landing of the Allied Forces at Normandy, D-Day. 24,000 troops landed on the beaches — and 4,414 died — to get a toehold in Hitler’s Europe, and begin the tide’s turn of the war.
Emile Dufresne, a medic with the U.S. Army’s Third Armored Division, reached France days later and saw the beachhead littered with debris.
He, now 95 years old, doesn’t need a reminder of the meaning of Memorial Day. He’ll be the guest of honor tomorrow at a Memorial Day Service at 10 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park in Traverse City.
But he offers another way to remember — even if you have never seen combat, served in the Armed Forces or know anyone impacted by war. Connect to them by acknowledging that servicemember sacrifices made your enjoyment possible.
“There’s a lot of lives that are given, because what you’re doing today, today, tomorrow, is history,” he said. “That’s where it comes, whatever we produce in the positive enhances everyone else around you, too.”