Credit: George Danby

As another Memorial Day approaches, I wonder how many Americans truly understand the gravity of this holiday. How many of you take a moment to understand why we celebrate this day, or the real cost for this holiday? We hang our flags and we put some flowers on the grave of the unknown soldier, but we can’t dwell on the true meaning of this day, or it would spoil the mood of our first summer BBQ, or our first trip to the beach. We know why we celebrate this holiday, we just don’t want to hear the gory details.

Happy Memorial Day? I don’t think so!

Ask any mother who lost a son or daughter, or one of those old veterans who march every year in parades. Ask those who watched their comrades, their friends, die on a battlefield, or those who were lucky enough to survive combat and return to their loved ones. They can tell you what this day is about. It is all about this insanity we call war, and all of the kids who paid the ultimate price for it.

Before they were soldiers, they were kids. Kids who never had a legal beer in a pub. Kids who never knew true love. Kids who never voted. Kids from small farm towns or inner cities. Kids who never traveled more than a few miles from their homes. Kids who will never fulfill their dreams or reach their potential. Kids who died scared and alone in some hell hole that no one even remembers today.

Try for a moment to put yourself in their shoes, if you dare. You are in a landing craft headed for Normandy Beach, or the beaches of Iwo Jima. You hear machine gun bullets hitting your landing craft, watching as your comrades are being mowed down like grass, wondering if you are next.

You are petrified! You are being attacked by an enemy you can’t see, in a bunker, or in the jungles of Vietnam. You’ve never even seen battle before, you’ve never been away from home before, you’ve never even been in a street fight, and you know that any minute you will probably die. How do you feel?

When the casualties come home, our Veterans Administration hospitals bear the task of caring for them, the now forgotten. These kids who will live out the rest of their lives in wheelchairs or dismembered to a point where they will never know the normal everyday activity of taking a shower or making a sandwich. But not to worry, we’ll hang out our flags in tribute to them.

This isn’t some John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movie, this is real life pain. And yet, because it happens so far from home, we tend to trivialize it. As long as it doesn’t affect our plans for vacation, the weekend beach party or the family cookout, we can deal with it. As long as it isn’t our sons or daughters.

We like to say “They died for their country.” It makes us feel better. It somehow softens the reality of kids coming home in bags, but in recent cases, that just isn’t accurate. Vietnam was never a threat to us, just like Iraq was never a threat to us. These kids died “In service to their country” and deserve all of the accolades and honor we bestow on World War I and World War II veterans.

When kids die because of careless decisions, made by incompetent politicians or egocentric military leaders, I take offense to that. I get damn mad, as should you.

It is time for us to tell our leaders that, if it is a just cause, it is their children who should lead the way to the front lines. Let’s see how quickly they jump into war then. My heart goes out to all of the mothers, fathers, sweethearts, brothers, sisters, wives and the husbands of these great kids, who gave their all. Thank you! I share your pain on this Memorial Day.

Doug Davis of Windham was a first responder in New York City on 9/11.