Thoughts on Memorial Day 2020

This year’s 2020 Memorial Day is much different than past Memorial Days for me in two distinct ways. First, this is the first Memorial Day I will experience without my Dad. Secondly, all of us find ourselves in a struggle that may even rival the threat that World War II posed to my Dad’s generation, as we now face the global COVID-19 Pandemic.

As my thoughts turn solemn, I wonder if these two realities may somehow be related. And if so, what lesson might they hold for us?

Earlier this month I received a certificate from the ‘United States of America’ bearing the signature of the ‘President of the United States’ that honored the memory of my Dad. These words in the document caught my immediate attention:

“…in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country…”

The term “selfless consecration” stood out from the rest of the words. “Selfless” I understood, but “consecration” is not a word I hear used much today. If you look up the meaning, you’ll find that it most often applies to a spiritual commitment to God, as in…

“Making a conscious, willing decision to dedicate your soul, mind, heart, and body to God. This decision must be one of will, intelligence, and affection. Only you can make the decision to consecrate yourself to God.”

But my Dad, and other service members from his generation, are recognized for their consecration to the service of “our country”. Think about that. Our service members are recognized for their conscious, willing decision to dedicate their soul, mind, heart, and body to the service of our country.

My Dad was fortunate; he never was exposed to combat during the war. But as he completed his training for maintenance of carrier aircraft, his next assignment would likely have been aboard an aircraft carrier supporting the invasion of mainland Japan. But the atomic bombs brought a sudden end to the war. Nevertheless, he and his mates had already made their conscious, willing decision to dedicate their soul, mind, heart, and body to the service of our country. Over 400,000 service members were required to give their last full measure (for the service of our country) and they did not return to their families or loved ones.

So, fast forward to today as we are faced with the national threat posed by the COVID-19 ‘enemy’. What are we being asked to “consecrate” in service to our country? As we progress in our own war against COVID, I come to believe that we are engaged in battle on two fronts: 1) the battle to preserve physical life, and 2) the battle to preserve our ‘way of life’ (personal and collective freedom).  But this battle should not pose an “either-or” choice but instead a “this-and” strategy.

I am confident that our battles on both of these fronts will be fought smartly and employ the best strategies we can devise using science and human knowledge. But let’s be honest, there are (and will be more) casualties on both fronts. That is the nature of war. The more looming question may be, “How do we as a society handle the fear associated with these losses?”  For the answer to that, maybe we should again look to the examples offered from our service members.

This past week I received an email written by an Army Chaplain that reminded me of one of those examples.  The chaplain relayed in a very personal story of how he had given “Shields of Strength” dog tags to a young Captain. These dog tags have a flag logo printed on one side and a scripture on the other. The most common verse printed on them is Joshua 1:9, and they are designed to be worn next to your heart at all times. That Captain was later the first U.S. officer killed in Iraq.   I too had received similar dog tags when in Iraq, and the Chaplain’s story brought back memories of how my own personal faith had brought comfort and encouragement to me in fearful times. (“I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified, or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go.” Joshua 1:9)

I know some of you are turned off by the thought of a faith in something you cannot see or touch. And for many, faith in a higher power is not found until all else is lost. One’s faith is entirely a personal and individual decision for each to choose. But, for me, my faith in God frees me to focus more on ‘living life’ than on ‘fearing death’. Wouldn’t less fear of death be a good thing for us to have as we deal with COVID-19?

My Dad’s WWII generation was known as “The Greatest Generation” for their sacrifice, courage, and endurance. How will our COVID-19 generation be remembered? Perhaps we all need ‘Shield-of-Strength’ dog tags for strength to face the fear that pervades our nation. My Dad lived his life to the fullest and his generation serves to remind me that our ‘not living’ dishonors those who have sacrificed or will yet sacrifice in their dying. Maybe it’s time for our own “selfless consecration”.

Making a conscious, willing decision to dedicate my soul, mind, heart, and body. This decision is one of will, intelligence, and affection. Only I can make the decision to consecrate myself to my country…or to God.

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