By Rev. Carlton Burris
Immanuel Baptist Church
Some people think you should never look back, that you should always look ahead. Those who say this don’t know what they are talking about. By looking back we can remember those who we need to thank and express our humble gratitude.
Memorial Day is about looking back. It is about pushing the pause button on our life for one day, and looking back to those who died so we can live in freedom. I spent 15 months in Vietnam. I remember the Drill Sergeant who so faithfully trained me in boot camp and then was killed 8 weeks after arriving in Vietnam. He was married with several children. I know they are looking back. I think of my first cousin, age 19, who was a helicopter pilot that was killed 3 weeks after landing in Vietnam.
I stood with his teenage wife and one year on son on a windy hill just outside Fort Worth and cried uncontrollably as the bugler played taps. I didn’t know then those 3 years later I would be assigned to the very place where he was killed. We must look back.
Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868. It was known as Decoration Day because it was time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. After WW1, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars. And in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.
I read where on an average day, about 750 people will visit the USS Arizona in Hawaii, and on Memorial Day weekend, about 4,600 people will visit that memorial. On and average day, some 3,000 people will visit the Vietnam War Memorial, and on Memorial Day weekend, about 7,600 people will visit it. These people are taking time to look back. Those men died to win a war that preserved our freedom. Some are against war for any reason at anytime. That is silly. If you are one of them answer this question: What kind of life would we have today if they had lost that war? No sane person likes war however, every once in a while someone like Hitler rises up and our hand is called.
I am thinking this moment of the 21 year old Marine I visited while at Bethesda Naval hospital in Maryland last May. I was their to visit Scott Flynn who is a member of my church who also had been terribly wounded. This young man had lost his left leg and his right jawbone had been shattered by shrapnel, and he had tracheotomy. He was in a small ICU room. I talked with his mother and sister who were having a difficult time. The young Marine pointed to an alphabet board. His sister explained that since he couldn’t talk he spelled out words. He slowly pointed to one letter and then another. In his condition, he was concerned about my Marine and wanted to know how he was doing? I told him and then we prayed. I went out into the Hall, put both hands on the wall, and cried.
A woman wrote this:
“I watched the flag pass by one day. It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it, and then He stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform, so young, so tall, so proud.
With hair cut square and eyes alert He’d stand out in any crowd.
I thought, how many men like him had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil? How many mothers’ tears?
How many children will never grow up knowing the dad who died for this country?
How many Pilots’ planes shot down?
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves?
No, Freedom is not free.”
The men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice should not be forgotten and they do not want to be forgotten.
I like what someone has well said: “Say goodbye to me, but not to the thought of me.”
On Memorial Day look back, give thanks, and pledge to never forget that freedom is not free!