Special days in June and July are set aside to honor events and symbols of national importance. Understanding their meaning is essential to the country’s wellbeing.
Independence Day and Flag Day are supposed to be reminders. But much like Memorial Day, the sacrifices that underpin them are largely left out of the celebrations.
By now it is a given that the vast majority of Americans have lost touch with the symbolism of the 4th of July and the Stars and Stripes flown on so many flagpoles.
Ironically, if ever there was a year that spotlighted the message behind these holidays it is 2012. Just count the war anniversaries. The nation is, or at least should be, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which preserved the Union. June marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, otherwise known as our “Second War of Independence.”
Then there is the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. It competes with the War of 1812 for the title of the “Forgotten War.” Vietnam, which really got underway for the U.S. 50 years ago, is beginning to experience its golden anniversary. Granted these last two wars are of little interest except to those who served in them. That is not as it should be.
At the heart of all four wars is freedom from some sort of threat. That in itself is worth celebrating. And similar to every war, the warriors fought under the colors of the American flag. So in these two summer months we especially respect the Flag and the independence it represents.
Yet one wonders if this is genuinely the case. It often seems that public activities overshadow the meaning of national holidays. Do Americans sincerely remember the lives lost to secure our freedom? Do they cherish the rights we have been given at a severer price? Is recalling the sacrifices too much to ask?
How many Americans know, for instance, that 6,824 patriots died fighting in the Revolution while another 18,500 perished from disease. Or that 2,260 Americans lost their lives on the battlefield the second time around against Britain, which was dwarfed by 17,500 who succumbed to disease.
Just recently it was revealed that a staggering 750,000 Americans probably sacrificed their lives during the Civil War, a far greater number than previously thought.
In Korea and Vietnam combined, some 95,000 GIs died for their nation.
That such anniversaries are worthy of remembrance should be beyond dispute. And tying them to the Flag and Independence are only natural. The trick is convincing the public that meaningful displays of patriotism are more important than picnics and shopping sprees.
Perhaps we can restore some of the meaning to patriotism. What better times than on Independence Day (July 4th) and on Flag Day (June 14th).
As the new commander of VFW Post 1981 I wish all the best of holidays and please take our message to heart, and fly our nation’s flag with honor.
Robert (Bob) McCracken,