Monday marks Memorial Day, in case you didn’t know. Americans will take a day off work to remember the men and women who died in service to the country.
For those who attend a Memorial Day observance this weekend, there will be somber speeches, fellowship and handshakes extended to veterans of all stripes who served in one of the branches of the armed services.
But Memorial Day is but one day on the calendar. For the other 364 days of the year, we have stone monuments to remind us of their sacrifices. Whether we do so on Memorial Day, or some other day of the year, it’s worth taking the time to view some of the memorials that mark the service of our veterans.
In the South, of course, there are monuments in many towns and cities to Confederate veterans. I once traveled through the little town of Eufaula, Alabama. It’s wide, leafy Main Street is right out of some movie set. At one end of Main Street, in the median, is a monument to that community’s Confederate dead. A little bit closer to home, in Oxford, there is a similar statue in one of the town’s small parks. And in Raleigh, the tall statue on the west lawn of the Capitol extolls the sacrifice of Confederate veterans.
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That monument is but one of several on the Capitol grounds that recognizes the efforts of North Carolina’s fighting men and women. The World War I-era Wildcat Division of the U.S. Army is memorialized with a small stone marker, while Vietnam veterans are remembered with a riveting memorial that depicts two soldiers saving a third soldier.
Another memorial memorializes Worth Bagley, the North Carolinian who became the first American to die in the Spanish-American War. Other memorials pay homage to North Carolina’s Confederate women and Tar Heels who served their nation during World Wars I and II and in Korea.
All these monuments – and so many more in places like Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Drive and Washington D.C. deserve our attention.
Perhaps one of the most compelling memorials you’ll ever visit in your life would be the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The walls containing the names of all the American men and women who died in this country’s half-hearted attempt at war stretch for what seems like forever. More than perhaps any other monument, it’s a vivid reminder that the soldiers, seamen, airmen and Marines who died at war were people too – each with their own stories, their own hopes and dreams for “after the war.”
If you go to a Memorial Day ceremony near where you live this weekend, well good. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Be reverent and grateful. But you might consider taking another day – any day – to take a closer look at the memorials that surround us every day.
It seems like a worthwhile adventure to set off on, especially if you think about the fact that the freedoms we enjoy are available to us everyday – not just on Memorial Day – because of what soldiers bought and paid for with their own lives.