Here is a surprise, I am not going to defend the Iraq war. I won’t even explain the importance of the war on terrorism. VA budget? Not today. That’s because this column is about Memorial Day, a hallowed day that should be about honoring the more than one million men and women who died in the service of this nation in wars and conflicts dating back to 1775. It should be above politics. Period.
Yet one presidential candidate has blatantly violated the sanctity of this most special day. I recently received an e-mail from a group called "Supportthetroopsendthewar.com." It included a video of former Sen. John Edwards. He calls on Americans to use Memorial Day weekend as a time to "bring an end to this war." Shockingly, the video is titled "A Memorial Day Message from John Edwards," with the smoking gun note, "Paid for by John Edwards for President." Moreover, the e-mail recommends that Americans bring signs with the message "Support the troops, End the War" to local Memorial Day parades. Revolting is a kind word for it. It’s as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone.
Edwards is hardly the first politician from either political party to exploit this day, a holiday that was consecrated with the blood of American heroes. But the e-mail makes me sick nonetheless. It needs to stop. This isn’t about Edwards, it’s about everybody. As national commander of The American Legion, I implore all candidates to refrain from politicking on Memorial Day.
The families of those killed in war should not be led to believe that their loved ones died for a less-than-worthy cause. They died because they took an oath to defend this nation and its Constitution. The sacrifice is the same whether it’s for a "popular war" or an unpopular one.
Memorial Day should be an occasion to bring Americans together to honor these heroes.
It brings to mind the words of Army Sergeant First Class Jack Robison, who recently wrote from Iraq, "Sometimes I think God must be creating an elite unit in heaven, because He only seems to select the very best soldiers to bring home early."
If you want to honor these heroes, visit a veterans’ cemetery on Memorial Day. Attend a parade without the divisive political signs. Make cards for the comrades of the fallen that are recuperating in military and VA hospitals. Lay a wreath at the stone of a departed hero.
We Americans need to remember why Memorial Day is special. It’s not about picnics or trips to the beach. It’s not about making pro- or anti-war statements. It’s not about supporting political candidates. It’s about honor, duty and the ultimate sacrifice. It’s about people who have decided that the United States is worth dying for.
Paul A. Morin of Chicopee, Mass. is national commander of the 2.7 million-member American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization.