Memorial Day.

13 Jun

Beyond Flanders Fields
A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on May 27, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

History of Memorial Day

  • To honor those who died in service to our country.
  • Memorial Day was first observed on 30 May 1868
    • flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Used to be called (and elsewhere still is) Decoration Day, or Remembrance Day.
  • The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem
    • “In Flanders Fields” poem
    • These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I,
    • their brilliant red color an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
  • After World War II, Memorial Day became the more common reference for the holiday while some old-timers still called it Decoration Day.
    • 1967 Congress declared Memorial Day the official name
    • 1968, Congress moved the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May to give everyone a long weekend every year, effective in 1971.
  • Mixed results, as now it is a time of retail sales and picnics.
  • To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day,
    • “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000
    • 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”

Connect with Moment for All Ages

  • Conflicting feelings about this day – picnics or remembrance – are not new
  • Not some war long ago: Over 6000 service members have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom.
  • Same tune:
    • One hand, cheer and shout, ladies turn out, bells will peal, parades, etc.
    • Other hand: where are your legs? Your arms?
  • Soldiers come back gravely wounded.
  • “IED are causing blast injuries that extend upward under the armor…Blast injuries are also producing an unprecedented burden of what orthopedists term “mangled extremities” — limbs with severe soft-tissue, bone, and often vascular injuries.”i
  • NY Times reports: “growing tide of combat veterans who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI), or concussions, caused by powerful explosions.
    • As many as 300,000, or 20 percent, of combat veterans who regularly worked away from bases, have suffered at least one concussion, according to the latest Pentagon estimates.
    • About half the soldiers get better within hours, days or several months and require little if any medical assistance.
    • But tens of thousands of others have longer-term problems that can include, to varying degrees, persistent memory loss, headaches, mood swings, dizziness, hearing problems and light sensitivity.
    • These symptoms, which may be subtle and may not surface for weeks or months after their return, are often debilitating enough to hobble lives and livelihoods.”ii

And they come home with invisible or unknown wounds that may kill them days, months, or years later

  • TBI – traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of the war on terror – still not often recognized
  • PTSD – increasing!
    • 2004, 1 in 8 soldiers returning from Iraq had PTSD
    • 2008, 20% of Iraq or Afghanistan veterans hat Depression or PTSD
    • 2010, up to 31% returned with some mental impairment
    • increasing with multiple deployments as this war drags on and on
  • Spiritual and emotional injuries on top of the physical:
    • Moral Injury: “A moral injury occurs when a soldier’s concepts of trust and right and wrong do not survive the heat of battle.
      • This breakdown can result from a soldier’s real or perceived failure under fire—or from the failure of a commander to properly lead.
      • As a result of this moral injury, the soldier brings home the psychological habits he developed for coping with the intense stresses of combat.
      • In other words, he or she returns to civilian life hyper-vigilant and trusting no one—a difficult way to live.”
  • Depressed, PTSD, Moral Injury and much more. Often can’t live…Suicide:
    • “In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.”iii
    • At first VA denied that suicide was an epidemic.
    • Between 2004 and 2008, the Army study revealed a suicide surge of 80 percent
    • Studies now show:
      • that male veterans have a twofold increase in death by suicide over their civilian counterparts
      • female veterans are three times as likely to kill themselves as their civilian counterparts.iv
    • As of July 2011: Both the president and defense secretary will now send condolence letters to the families of troops who commit suicide in combat zones.
      • Which is nice, but does not begin to address situation
  • Trusting no one also leads to inappropriate ways of expressing anger, of trying to control, dominate, and more.
    • From 2006 to 2011 Army records show:
    • Child abuse rose 43 percent
    • Domestic violence rose 33 percent
    • Violent sex crime was up 64 percent
  • Though troops have left Iraq and an Afghanistan withdrawal is planned, the health and psychological problems will continue, and in some cases could even increase as veterans enter the civilian world

This is hard stuff! We might want to turn away. Ignore it. Go back to our picnics and our celebrations of summer.

But ignoring the problem does not make it go away. Ignoring the pain – physical, emotional and spiritual, of those who have served our country (whether we agree with the cause or not) is immoral.

War is terrible, its costs very high. And they don’t end on the battlefield – those who died in service to our country include those who have died as a result of their service.

We must find a way to do what we can so that those that we send to war, and their loved ones back home, don’t suffer any more than they have to.

Starts with not turning away. Paying attention. Taking that moment in silence to acknowledge our collective failure to care for those who we owe so much.

So let us pause, now, for a moment of silence. A moment to consider the high costs of war. After the silence, we will have a moment of prayer.

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