For others, it is the first real chance of the year to get outdoors in general, and to travel in particular. Indeed, destination weddings are increasingly planned for this time of year.
Of course, the holiday holds special significance this year. After more than a year of masking up, social distancing, quarantining, and the like, the vast majority of us are feeling more than a little cooped up. Memorial Day, 2021 is increasingly seen as the first big rebound from the Covi-19 pandemic.
While all of this is true, however, it is important not to lose sight of the real purpose of Memorial Day. As a prominent national politician learned the hard way this week, this is intended to be much, much more than just a chance to “enjoy a long weekend”. It is intended as a time to honor those who gave what Abraham Lincoln famously termed “the last full measure of devotion” to the cause of our freedom.
Simply put, Memorial Day is the time we set aside for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have died in the performance of their military duties while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
One of the things I appreciate about this weekend is the number of networks that still choose to broadcast war movies. In my opinion, this annual ritual is vitally important in that it serves both to remind us of and to affirm the exploits of heroes of previous generations.
On Sunday, the History channel chose to air the entire HBO miniseries titled Band of Brothers. Based on the book of the same name by Professor Stephen Ambrose (which was itself based on his multiple recorded interviews with actual veterans), this ten volume mini-series dramatizes the history of "Easy" Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division.
It recounts the company’s exploits from basic training in the United States through multiple major actions across Europe (including D-Day, Market Garden, The Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of concentration camps, etc…), and eventually on to Hitler’s own Eagle’s Nest itself as the war concludes.
While every episode recounts one or more poignant moments in the lives of various soldiers, one in particular stands out in my mind. It comes at the end of episode three, where Easy company has just taken the little French city of Carentan, the key to the Cotinine Peninsula and a deep water port for the Allies to us in following up their earlier D-Day landings.
After a hard fought battle, Easy Company’s soldiers were removed from the front on June 29, and placed in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont for a well-deserved rest. Sadly, the company had lost a total of 65 men during the engagement.
To dramatize the significance of this, in the closing scene, a U S soldier goes to a local French laundry to retrieve some items he had earlier dropped off for cleaning and repair. As he is about to leave, the French lady in charge asks if he could take some of the others’ laundered items back to them.
As she hands him package after package, the viewer soon realizes what she could not possibly have known – that she is returning packages of freshly laundered clothes to men who have not claimed them personally simply because they have all just been killed in action! The look of pain on the soldier’s face as hears and sees the names and then realizes all of this is not something soon to be forgotten.
Why? Precisely because of what this gripping moment of film so powerfully underscores - the notion that freedom is not free! His comrades had all died engaging a cruel and ruthless enemy. They had done so in order to resist tyranny and to ensure freedom for all who suffered under the terrible hand of oppression.
May we never forget this simple, yet profound notion! Freedom is not free! It always comes at a great cost!
And as we celebrate the many things Memorial Day has come to represent this weekend, may we do fully cognizant that chief among them must always be the honor and respect we owe to those who gave their all that we might be a free people!
For a fairly in depth episode guide to Band of Brothers,
Page 30 recounts the above mentioned scene.