Memorial Day Reflection

Scituate veterans are honored during Memorial Day ceremonies

William Larson

Scituate veterans are honored during Memorial Day ceremonies

Louisa Kinsley, Contributing Writer

With Memorial Day coming up this weekend, I was thinking about what it really stands for and its broader implications. How do we truly memorialize the brave, selfless citizens who fought and died for our country in the most impactful way? My sense is there’s not just one answer.  But I believe that for our country, there are specific acts that we could institute that would have a significant impact. And my idea is not only to help honor those who served but also to improve our country. 

What better way to memorialize them than to show that we are willing to contribute and work to improve the country they fought and died to give us?  And that’s why we need to join them in service–to preserve their legacy, give citizens ownership in the success of their society, create stronger connections between individuals and their homeland, and foster cooperation and patriotism between our citizens. 

With all of that in mind, I believe mandatory service would benefit our country and allow citizens to take ownership of their responsibility to society.  I believe that to be an active, good citizen, people need to serve their country. 

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean military service.  But I think that serving in any form, whether in the military, a political role, the medical field, the police, firefighting, teaching, Americorps, Peace Corps, City Year, or working for the government in another way, should be an obligation.  Through service, people can leave their mark on the country and do something truly meaningful. 

I remember a time when this idea really struck me.  On a rainy fall day, as I was walking through Arlington National Cemetery for my grandfather’s funeral, I was in awe at the countless rows and rows of graves of service members who died in active duty or had the qualifications to be buried there.  My grandfather was a career Naval officer and devoted 20 years of his life to the military. He is among 400,000 veterans buried at Arlington.  Each one of these heroes left a crucial legacy on this country.

Similarly, this weekend, I was walking through the cemetery by my house with my dad.  We watched as 12 young boy scouts replaced every one of the faded, tattered flags at each veteran’s grave with a brand new one in honor of Memorial Day.  Although this may seem like a small act, it got me thinking.  Not only was it meaningful that these young kids were placing flags to remember the veterans for their service, but it was also extremely significant that they were serving and engaged in that project.  I then realized that Memorial Day is not just a day of remembrance of those who served but a day of reflection on our own service.

John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  This is such a powerful statement, but it has become somewhat overused and faded.  Take a moment to think about what he truly meant. Do we ask ourselves enough, or at all, what we can do to serve our country?  And if we do ask ourselves, how have we responded?

Now picture this: Imagine if every single American could be buried at Arlington or with a flag next to their grave.  Imagine walking into a cemetery, and instead of a few flags here and there, there was a flag at every single gravestone.  Imagine if we created a program by which citizens could more easily access services to fulfill their duty to the country. What if you could take six months or a year to pursue a cause or project you feel passionate about that could also improve our country?

We could institute a program like this, but in all likelihood, a program of mandatory service may not be implemented soon.  So, what can each of us do to help instead? Every individual can feel a personal responsibility to do their part.  Each of us can have a service role in the future.  What better way to pay homage to everyone we are memorializing this weekend than to finish what they started and what they died to protect? 

On this Memorial Day weekend, I’d ask us all to take some time to remember those who gave their lives and to reflect. Are there problems in the country that you think need to be solved? If so, let’s ask ourselves what we can do to become part of the solution. What can we contribute? How can we serve to make our country, which these selfless heroes fought and died for, a better place?