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Memorial Day: Honoring Our Heroes With Honesty

Memorial Day: Honoring Our Heroes With Honesty

by Rev. Sheila M. Beckford and Rev. E. Michelle Ledder, Ph.D.

Honoring our history is a tricky thing. At times, our insistence to celebrate the good outweighs the necessity of revealing anything that contradicts an inspirational or heart-warming narrative. Especially in times of danger or despair, we seek heroes and the stories of heroes in the people, organizations, even nations with which we identify. If “they” can do that which seems impossible or contradicts the status quo, then we, too, can have hope for ourselves and our world. Yet, it is rare when the heroic stands in isolation from the evil that surrounds it. It is rare, yet we continue to seek it, write it, and applaud it.

In 2022, we stand in a heap of danger and despair. A virus-driven pandemic going into its third year. Racialized terror revealing realities protected by political backing and publicized by prolific digital documentation. Debates about control over guns and women’s bodies allowed to provide cover for white supremacy, misogyny, and anti-Blackness. Lawmakers more interested in sound-bites and fundraising than using the largest amount of institutional power and capital in the nation to create REAL change. Law enforcement more interested in “spin” than protecting people. Day-to-day living, let alone celebrating, becomes more difficult and to the search for heroes we more desperately cling. 

Currently, Memorial Day, is a day set-apart for honoring heroes – specifically those who have sacrificed their lives during service within the United States military. These humans who have given their lives for purposes greater than their own self-preservation or “in-group” should be lauded and celebrated and honored. In a time when sacrifice is often sacrificed for “individual freedoms” or “taking care of one’s own,” amplifying the courage and dignity of those who would stand up on behalf of others is a healing balm of its own. The military personnel we celebrate today, on Memorial Day, represent and reveal a legacy of what it means to be truly human – the spark of the sacred within each of us created with the bravery to do battle against evil for the purpose of creating good. And for this, we celebrate.  

Whether we honor a family member we have lost to war or a fallen soldier who reminds us of our capability toward courage, we are most faithful to the legacy of those who have died when we tell the full truth. It is impossible to honor the sacrifices of soldiers who have died for the ideals of freedom and justice when we cover up that which obstructs it.

Memorial Day began on May 1, 1865. “The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, with the Union victorious over its Confederate foes. In order to celebrate the victory and honor the dead, on May 1 of that year around 10,000 freed Black men and women gathered in historic Hampton Park. The group placed flowers on the graves of unknown soldiers, a practice held often in times of war.” [1]

Subsequently it was the families of the Black fallen soldiers who were often denied G.I. benefits such as home and business loans, tuition assistance, job placement and decent healthcare that was given to their white counterparts.

We do not honor those who have sacrificed their lives during military service when we cover up the inequities within military protocols and policies. We do not honor those who have sacrificed their lives during military service when we cover up the injustices perpetrated by the very same institutions and individuals in whose names they fought. We do not honor those who have sacrificed their lives during military service when we cover-up the internal wars instigated by the inequities perpetrated within to satisfy unmitigated economic greed. We do not honor those who have sacrificed their lives during military service to battle evil to create the good when we do not name evil outright. We do not honor those who have sacrificed their lives during military service when we lie to protect the shiny image of a country “united.” It is impossible to honor the sacrifices of soldiers who have died for the ideals of freedom and justice when we cover up that which obstructs it.

So, how then shall we honorably honor those who have fought and died during military service, this Memorial Day? We shall honor them with honesty: honestly grieving, honestly truth-telling, honestly fighting injustice, and honestly creating legacies which no longer demand the sacrifice of heroes – military or otherwise.

 

[1] Memorial Day First Recognized by Blacks in Charleston, SC | Black America Web, May 27, 2022

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