Not just a weekend off: Honoring our troops

Not+just+a+weekend+off%3A+Honoring+our+troops

Clementine Bondor

Memorial Day is observed annually on the final Monday of the month of May, honoring the thousands of men and women killed while serving in the United States military. However, this likely went unnoticed or even forgotten here at HM – it has been an otherwise distracting week; we’re in the midst of a testing period, and the weather has been gloomy recently, but that does not excuse the school’s disturbing and irresponsible lack of acknowledgment for the holiday and all of that for which it stands.

This would not be so shameful had the school done anything to honor Veterans’ day, or acknowledged the article subsequently published in The Record making the case to do so. This is not an isolated incident.

This pattern is coupled with an upsetting and quickening shift away from respect for our troops in the country, even from those who lead it. Vice President Kamala Harris recently posted a celebratory picture of herself to her social media platforms with the caption “Enjoy the long weekend.” 

For many, the “long weekend” meant another year without a close friend, parent, or spouse. For many, the “long weekend” involved leaving a flag at the head of the grave of a loved one. For many, this weekend is a somber one, and Vice President Harris’ tweet is in stark and shocking contrast with the intention behind the holiday.

This is not, however, a criticism of Vice President Harris or her policy. Lack of respect for our troops is not a polarizing issue. It is not a matter of party. Universities across the country have released statements in honor of Memorial Day; even Orangetheory gyms, Veggie Tales, Halo, and Vineyard Vines have posted on social media. Horace Mann, however, has said nothing.

The school sends emails regularly with updates on current holidays and causes, eager to inform the community about ways that they can learn and get involved. Over the course of the year, for most holidays there have been festive treats during break time. For most current events, we have held space for conversation in classrooms, assemblies, or homerooms. And yet, this weekend, instead of keeping in our minds and hearts our fallen soldiers, we sit back and enjoy the day off from school, barbecuing, watching TV, or at the beach. Meanwhile, there are soldiers working tirelessly around the world, without those comforts, for our ability to enjoy them — many of whom might not make it home. 

Approximately 700,000-800,000 men died in the Civil War. According to the Defense Casualty Analysis System, 116,516 and 405,399 people died in World Wars I and II, respectively. 39,574 in the Korean War. 58,220 in Vietnam. However, this issue is not outdated. 11 US soldiers died in Iraq in 2020. 2,312 have died in Afghanistan since 2001, 1,534 of them since 2009. 

In my free time, I work with Operation Shoebox, a nonprofit organization that sends supplies —  anything from foot powder to beef jerky to Christmas cookies — to troops stationed around the world. I’ve sent packages to Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, and South Korea, as well as to naval bases within the U.S. I have formed incredible correspondences with many soldiers, by whom I continue to be inspired and amazed. 

However, this kind of tangible work is not mandated to honor our troops. It is not difficult nor costly nor time-consuming to be grateful for the freedoms which we enjoy, and the sacrifices made to establish them. All that is required by Memorial Day is a moment: a moment of thought, a moment of respect, a moment of acknowledgement; sixty seconds of peace, perhaps, or a single line in an email.

For Veterans’ Day in 2019, HM invited four of its alumni to speak about their experiences serving in the military. Many in the community appreciated the assembly, and it showed students just one more amazing path they could choose for their lives after HM using the tools that they’ve learned here. It also, however, reminded the community the importance of respecting the soldiers who do so much for us. This kind of action is completely within the capabilities of the HM, and the kinds of conversations that it started are within the wheelhouse of HM students. I cannot understand why such action has disappeared.

I do not bear any immediate connections to the military. Several of my father’s uncles served in the Pacific in the Second World War, but I never got a chance to meet them. However, I still consider them heroes of mine, and I do what I can to honor them. Serving in the military takes strength and determination and dedication like no other; these men and women routinely accomplish feats unfathomable to us here at HM. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, however, the rate of veteran suicide is 1.5 times that of civilian adults. Despite increased federal funding, VA programs, and public awareness campaigns, the problem is ongoing. These are our heroes. The least that we can do is to take one day, out of three hundred and sixty-five, to acknowledge them.

Please do not wish people a “Happy Memorial Day.” Please do not use the day as an excuse to eat hamburgers or sleep in without thinking for a moment of the millions of lives sacrificed for your rights and comforts and freedoms.

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that this year’s activities — or, rather, a lack thereof — were a fluke or a poor and inconvenient misalignment of schedules, and that Horace Mann will try its hardest to honor our soldiers starting now, or, at the very least, a year from today. For now, I, for one, have an American flag hanging in my bedroom and honor the lives and service of those for which it stands.