Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who have died while serving in the armed forces of the United States of America. This differs from Veteran’s Day on which we honor all those who have served in the armed forces.
This might seem a bit perplexing to some, or even a little redundant. I have thought so too in the past. This year, however, I have been thinking a lot about my gramps, Vern Clair Baum. He was a drafted US Marine who served on Iwo Jima as well as the following occupation of Japan. Iwo Jima was one of the most brutal of WWII battles.
Vern lived to be 81 years old. He died on January 9, 2001. Almost to the day 55 years after being honorably discharged from the Marine Corp January 31, 1946. I cannot imagine the horrors he saw. How he maintained any faith in humanity I do not know. I am not even sure how he maintained his senses. Yet, he did; all the while creating a simple, rich life for his wife and children and his grandchildren to come.
My gramps deserves honor. Both for the service he gave our country and for the life he lived thereafter. Hence, Veterans Day makes sense to me. I can relate.
Memorial Day is another story. I cannot relate. I don’t know anyone who has lost their life in the armed forces. I struggle to even think of a distant acquaintance. I suspect I am not alone, if for no other reason than this: there are two things you can count on, one is you will die, and two, you will soon be forgotten.
This fact is the crux of the reason we have Memorial Day and not only Veterans Day. Because those who have given their lives are in grave danger of being forgotten too soon. My gramps would often say, “The real heroes are the ones who never came home.” This is so common a phrase among combat veterans it is almost a mantra. This is the haunting chant of the likes of Ira Hayes who came to ruin by the pomp and circumstance surrounding his part in the raising of a flag for an “after the fact” photo atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. So popular was the photo the Marine Memorial in Washington DC is a depiction.
While I seek to honor my gramps every day of my life by the way I live, and in a special way on Veteran’s Day, I will not be honoring him on Memorial Day. Rather I will memorialize those who I don’t remember. Those I never knew. Those who never had an opportunity to influence the world beyond the battle field. You likely don’t know them either. They are heroes. Gramps would want it that way.
I realized when I was formatting this article to post I had cropped my gramps’ buddy out of the featured picture. It occurred to me perhaps he is one of those who deserves special honor on Memorial Day. No one in our family knows who he is or was. I am compelled to put his picture here.