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Memorial Day Reminders

Memorial Day Reminders

My Fitbit has a useful feature. At 10 minutes before every hour – during the day – it vibrates to remind me to move. If I’ve been immobile for the prior 50 minutes, that is.

I can be engrossed in a new post for the website, in the midst of an interview or driving on the interstate.

Then, bzzzzz.

A message flashes on the tiny screen on my left wrist that says something like, “Take me for a walk!” Or “It’s walk o’clock!”

Unless I’m on the road or in a meeting, that vibration is a signal to stand up, jog in place, or saunter in circles until the wristband does a little celebratory vibrate to let me know I hit my goal of at least 250 steps every hour.

These fitness reminders are impossible to ignore.

It occurs to me that we ought to have something similar for Memorial Day.

A gentle nudge that periodically interrupts this wonderful, go-to-the-beach, fire-up-the-grill, take-in-a-ballgame, kick-off-summer-season, to remind us of what it is we’re celebrating. And why we’re not at work.

Something like this:

You don’t set your alarm on Memorial Day, so you sleep in. You groggily pour yourself a cup of coffee, looking forward to an unhurried day.

Then, bzzzzz.

Before you can brush your teeth, you’re reminded to pause for a moment to remember the roughly 4,400 American soldiers who died in battle during the Revolutionary War.

On top of that, you recall the estimated 3,000 who perished – many froze to death – in the winter of 1777-78 at Washington’s Valley Forge encampment.

If Memorial Day is warm and mostly sunny - as it promises to be in Virginia Beach - you pack up the family and head to the beach.

Then, bzzzzz.

Before you can slather on the sunscreen and spread your blanket, you’re reminded of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died in the Civil War. The estimate of mortalities from America’s deadliest conflict range from about 498,000 to 620,000 to even 750,000, thanks to incomplete records and newly revised numbers.

When you think Civil War, you can’t forget Gettysburg. That three-day battle in July of 1863 was the deadliest of a cruel war that cost roughly 7,000 Confederate and Union soldiers their lives.

Back to the holiday. You’re about to tiptoe into the chilly ocean for your first swim of 2017.

Then, bzzzzz.

You’re reminded of the roughly 116,000 servicemen who died in the first World War and the estimated 405,000 killed in World War II.

Survivors of the second World War are still among us, but there are fewer every year who knew the war dead as comrades and family.

Once home, you light the Weber, fix the burgers and potato salad and get ready to sit down with your family.

Then, bzzzzz.

You think about the estimated 54,000 who died in Korea, the roughly 90,000 who perished in Vietnam.

Time for dessert. You’re about to ask who wants strawberry shortcake.

Then, bzzzzz.

You remember the roughly 7,000 Americans who have died – so far – in the war on terror. Sadly, that number is sure to rise.

It’s been another exhausting Memorial Day. You tuck your kids into bed. You get ready to turn on the TV to catch up on the news.

Then, bzzzzz.

You suddenly remember the most recent deaths.  The four American troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year. The 13 who died there last year.  

The buzzing stops as you’re about to hit the sack. Still, you can’t sleep.

Instead, you remember the estimated 1.1 million members of the U.S. military that have died in all wars. That number – and most of the others used here – came from a 2015 “PBS NewsHour” report on war deaths.

Counting the dead is an imprecise business. Historical records are often inaccurate. Beyond that, service members often die of battle wounds years after the fighting ended. Suicides usually don’t factor into the statistics.

So counts vary wildly.

Whatever the exact number of men and women who perished protecting the United States, it’s staggering.

On Memorial Day, we ought to take a few minutes out of celebrating to ponder that.


A version of this appeared in the May 27, 2017 Virginian-Pilot. 

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