Memorial Day. At Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery, 70-something Legionnaires and Boy Scouts too young to serve plant mini-American flags adjacent to slick headstones. There are 150 Civil War veterans buried at Evergreen, most from the Grand Army of the Republic (the North.)
The number of dead, 620,000, was almost too much to bear. Memorial Day, conceived as “Decoration Day,” a time to decorate the graves of the fallen, sprang from the heartbreak of America’s defining war.
There are more headstones at Evergreen, a history of bloodshed chiseled in marble. The Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII, Korea, the forgotten war, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan.
This is not Arlington Cemetery. Most of the servicemen and women buried here were retired civilians who lived full lives, joined Rotary or the Elks, raised children and cheered on Little League. They worked at the Kimberly Clark mill or taught school. Many didn’t talk about war. But walking down Colby Ave, hearing a laugh at an Edmonds parade, memories trigger of soldiers frozen in time, of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and never got to marry, to return to college on the GI bill, to argue about politics. To live.
On Memorial Day we not only honor the dead, but also thank those who currently serve. They are fewer in the age of the all-volunteer military. The privileged still can avoid military service. The windfall of universal service is the spirit of shared sacrifice (although the well-heeled still find ways to weasel out.) Americans viscerally understand what’s at stake when it’s their daughter or brother on the line.
Today, policymakers who send young men and women in harm’s way rarely served themselves. As an antiwar politician once observed, “I’m tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to fight.” And yet there will be more wars, and more calls to serve. Washingtonians always step up.
Snohomish County is home to an increasing number of veterans, many settling close to where they served at Naval Station Everett or Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq return to an economy still rebounding from the Great Recession. This is not 1946, with employment ads that announce, “Veterans preferred.”
We need to honor veterans with more than lip service. They deserve our support in the workplace, at school, in the community.
In the era of roadside bombs, PTSD and traumatic head injuries have soared. An epidemic of suicides and clinical depression has followed. Memorial Day honors those buried at Evergreen. It’s also about supporting those who served and still suffer.