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Opinion

A Special Occasion


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • May. 27, 2022 - 1:56 PM

A Special Occasion

Alex McRae is an author and ghostwriter. His debut novel, “Rough Draft,” is now available. He can be reached at: alexmmcrae@gmail.com .

Whether the subject is politics, college football or the best way to fry a chicken, Americans have a reputation for not agreeing on much.

But since the end of the Civil War, we have been — with few exceptions — unanimous in our admiration for the U.S. military.

We aren’t shy about honoring our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. But not all occasions created to honor our nation’s military are meant to be observed with fireworks and parades.

One of those occasions is Memorial Day, which is celebrated on the last Monday of May. Memorial Day honors those who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Until 1971 Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. The first recorded Decoration Day observance was held on May 5, 1868. Over 5,000 citizens gathered at Arlington Cemetery to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Civil War dead buried there since the cemetery was established in 1864.

Today, Memorial Day at Arlington is marked by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and usually, a presidential address.

When I was growing up, Memorial Day was a big deal. I hope it still is. But considering the continued coarsening of our culture, its no surprise that some — including some elected “leaders,” say old-fashioned concepts such as patriotism are racist, sexist, bigoted or harmful.

On the bright side, people in my hometown go out of their way to make sure Memorial Day is celebrated with the dignity it deserves.

As part of this year’s observance, a local Rotary Club installed over 100 crosses engraved with the names of local veterans who died while serving from World War I until the present.

Our local efforts to honor fallen veterans reminded me of another place where Americans who gave their lives in defense of freedom are never forgotten.

Normandy American Cemetery sits on a cliff overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach, site of one of the deadliest battles of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings.

More than 9,300 American service members, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations, are buried there.

The cemetery is as reverent a place as any church I’ve ever entered.

When my wife, Angela, and I were there, several busloads of French school children arrived. A guide explained that French students were required to visit the cemetery to pay their respects to Americans who fought and died to liberate France from Adolph Hitler’s Nazi forces.

Americans have never been afraid to fight and die against a common enemy. Today, we seem more content with attacking each other.

During the War of 1812, after the U.S. Navy defeated the British Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie, victorious U.S. Naval Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry wrote to his superior officer to say, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Times change. In 1970, Walt Kelly, creator of the iconic cartoon character Pogo, drew a poster for the first U.S. Earth Day celebration.

The poster shows Pogo looking at a huge pile of trash and litter and saying, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Kelly’s poster was an effort to keep people from trashing the planet. Lately, Americans seem to have a growing affinity for trashing opposing points of view.

This isn’t good. Thousands of our fellow Americans died to give us the right to disagree.

It’s not carved in stone or scribbled on paper anywhere, but Memorial Day seems like a good time to remember that our right to disagree should always go hand in hand with an unspoken obligation to Do Better.

These days, it isn’t easy.

Alex McRae is an author and ghostwriter. His debut novel, “Rough Draft,” is now available. He can be reached at: alexmmcrae@gmail.com .