MEMORIAL Day does not hit as close to home as it once did. At the height of the Civil War and again in the peak years of World War II, fully 9 percent of the U.S. population was in the military. Today, the figure is just a fraction of 1 percent.
At the end of the Civil War, when the observance previously known as Decoration Day began, honoring service members who lost their lives for the country was very personal. Today, for many American families, the occasion can feel more like a history lesson and less like a vital aspect of our current affairs.
Honoring the distant past is a significant part of Memorial Day, of course, but the scope should be broader. Servicemen and women continue to take risks on behalf of their fellow citizens every day. The men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines knows that a day could come when they will be tested.
There are no greater examples of those who have passed that test than the Americans who earn the Medal of Honor. It is the nation’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force.
This month, President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to former Sgt. Kyle White, an Army radiotelephone operator who was in a group attacked by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2007. He was knocked unconscious by a grenade; when he awoke, he spent four hours aiding three soldiers, dragging them to cover and summoning help. One of them survived with Sergeant White, who was the 14th recipient of the medal for service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Last week, Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter was designated as the 15th. Cpl. Carpenter threw himself on a grenade in an attempt to save a fellow Marine during a 2010 attack, also in Afghanistan.
Whether Americans spend today at parades, in cemeteries, or at picnics with neighbors and friends, we can take a moment to nod in respect to service members who gave their lives, and say thank-you to those who are still among us. It’s the best way to bring Memorial Day home.