Even During Coronavirus, Memorial Day Observance Should Focus on Those Who’ve Fallen

Written by Steve Pauwels on May 26, 2020

Surge Summary: The latest Memorial Day celebration should have been focused on America’s war-dead and their families. Mixing in coronavirus-era “essential workers” was understandable, but unacceptable. Those who have died serving the United States in uniform deserve special and exclusive honor.

Viewing the springtime broadcast of Washington, D.C.’s National Memorial Day Concert — featured on our local Public Television channel — is becoming an annual tradition at my household. It’s regularly hosted in dignified and heart-stirring style by actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise. Last year’s program came close to bringing me to tears.

We tuned in this go-round to discover — why were we surprised? — 2020’s commemoration was being crimped by –what else — the coronavirus hysteria that has been squashing life for weeks now. May 24th’s offering was mainly a patchwork of reruns from previous broadcasts and live performances exhibited on an empty mall in front of Capitol Hill. 100% fresh material before a patriotic crowd would have plainly been better — but what was presented was meaningful enough and respectfully honored our fallen.

I confess, however, early on the proceedings detoured into something that really bugged my wife and me: roughly six minutes invested in a segment touting, once again, the men, women and young people who have continued with “essential jobs” during the COVID-19 lockdown. The term “new heroes” was repeated a number of times. In case viewers didn’t quite get the message, the production wrapped nearly an hour-and-a-half later with yet another series of allusions to those presently providing services during the contagion; a reference to “COVID-fighters” surfaced.

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Let me clarify this so there’s no confusion: Yes! Medical professionals, police, firefighters, first-responders of every stripe have served commendably, sometimes onerously, in recent times. Attaboys as well to grocery employees, take-out restaurateurs, retailers, postal workers, etc. who’ve kept at their quotidian duties so society’s wheels can keep turning; at least, after a fashion. There’s no doubt, they’ve helped make the rest of our lives a bit less unpleasant during the coronavirus clampdown.

To all the aforementioned: Thank You! 

That said … would it have been possible, for a couple hours on Memorial Day eve, to take a pause from pandemic preoccupation? To be allowed a focus on something that has nothing to do with the health challenge bedeviling the planet for several months? Specifically, to honor the American men and women under arms who’ve “given all” over the centuries for the nation’s security, liberty, quality of life — without mentioning anything to do with either of the currently ubiquitous c-words?

Might we have been permitted that small favor?

“Hero”? It’s a word, like so much of the 21st century’s lexicon, being ground down into semi-meaninglessness nowadays. If someone enacts something we like, it’s becoming disconcertingly routine to dub them “a hero”. If a fellow human being does something kind or positive or even helpful we christen him/her worthy of the appellation. How about we reel in that trend? At least just a bit?

Not every sacrifice, not every service rendered, is equal to all others. Not all are heroic. I’ll say it: some noteworthy exertions deserve more encomia than others. Some merit pointed and exclusive acknowledgement at certain, concentrated moments.

Memorial Day enjoys a particularly sacred purpose. It’s grippingly appropriate, every last Monday of May, to limit its observance to that solemn function. Families which have lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters — loved ones — in military duty to the United States deserve that special accommodation; undistracted, undiluted by acknowledgement of what other decent folks have done or are doing. Borrowing Lincoln’s lyrical phrasing, Memorial Day studiously ought to be reserved for cherishing those “honored dead” who “gave the last full measure of devotion” in the pay of this Republic

Trust me, COVID-19 will, unfortunately, be waiting for us mid-week; as, gratefully, will be our fellow men pressing on in the “front lines” facing it.  The culture, meantime, will get back to its collective coronavirus conniption — and whatever else becomes the civilizational obsession du jour — pronto. Opportunistic talking heads, overheated journalists, crisis-mongering pols and, indeed, many a well-intentioned citizen, will see to it. Guaranteed.

Memorial Day should endure as a few hours in which we insist on an unalloyed emphasis on those Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard members whose loss made the Federal Holiday necessary in the first place.

I appreciate the friendly kid who bags my canned goods, the dependable chap who conveys my mail six days/week, the administrator answering phone calls from aggravated inquirers, the exhausted doctor or nurse who faces risk during this pathogen outbreak and the twenty-something grunt in shock and bleeding out on a foreign field of battle, crying out for his mother, his girl, his home. Absolutely, I’m obliged to all of them.

But one of those things is not like the others. Hint: It ain’t among the first four on the list.

Image: Screen Shot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0LUUK7smGI

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.