Why Memorial Day?

Owen Hill

As a veteran, it seems that many people go out of their way to thank me on Memorial day. Maybe I am just a bit sensitive to it, but I always feel the need to correct them. Memorial Day is very different than Veterans' Day in November. Memorial Day is a chance to remember--memorialize--those who have died defending our country. We have other days to celebrate those who are living and served well, but today is for those who died.

This is not to say that we are wrong to cook out with friends. The few men and women I personally knew who died serving in the military would have wanted us to celebrate the freedom they paid so dearly for. But I also know that we honor their sacrifice by digging a bit deeper today to lay the foundation for our celebration.

One of the ways our family remembers those who died is reading some of their letters home. When we enter into their lives, their loss seems so much sharper, the void so much greater. Captain Charlie May left a wife and newborn to defend Great Britain in WW1 and wrote some of the most compelling diary entries. 

Here is one of the last he ever wrote that moves me to tears:

". . . I must not allow myself to dwell on the personal - there is no room for it here. Also it is demoralising. But I do not want to die. Not that I mind it for myself. If it be that I am to go, I am ready. But the thought that I may never see you or our darling baby again turns my bowels to water. I cannot think of it with even the semblance of equanimity.

My one consolation is the happiness that has been ours. Also my conscience is clear that I have always tried to make life a joy for you. I know at least that if I go you will not want. That is something. But it is the thought that we may be cut off from each other which is so terrible and that our Babe may grow up without my knowing her and without her knowing me. It is difficult to face. And I know your life without me would be a dull blank. Yet you must never let it become wholly so. For to you will be left the greatest charge in all the world; the upbringing of our baby. God bless that child, she is the hope of life to me. My darling, au revoir. It may well be that you will only have to read these lines as ones of passing interest. On the other hand, they may well be my last message to you. If they are, know through all your life that I loved you and baby with all my heart and soul, that you two sweet things were just all the world to me.

I pray God I may do my duty, for I know, whatever that may entail, you would not have it otherwise."

Capt. Charlie May died during the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916, two weeks after he wrote this. 

If you want to read all of his accounts, I highly recommend his published Diary. Here is a link if you are hooked on Amazon Prime like I am: https://www.amazon.com/Fight-Alongside-Friends-Diaries-Charlie/dp/0007558538

Perhaps more practically, If you just want a few letters to read today to friends, to family, or just to yourself, here is a great resource: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/letters-first-world-war-1915/

We are amazingly blessed to be here, celebrating today with friends and family. Just as those who paid the ultimate price did so as their duty, it is our duty to remember them and compel ourselves to live in a way that honors what they fought for.

May God bless you today.

- Owen Hill