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A man in a blue suit, military style cap, and mask holds an American Legion flag.
Pete Stockslager, former Commander of American Legion Post 791, participates in a Memorial Day ceremony recorded May 21 for broadcast on Northbrook’s TV station Monday. A Vietnam War vet, Stockslager was an Air Force pilot stationed in Da Nang. He served two tours, flew 336 missions, and left the Air Force after six years with the rank of captain and 80 percent hearing loss from the roar of the jet engines.
Photo by Neil Steinberg

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Honor U.S. dead by not making more of them

We remember fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, but have we forgotten the selfless sacrifice that inspired them?

Monday is Memorial Day, and I know what you’re thinking: no Memorial Day sales, no picnics, no parades . . .

Well, dry your eyes. Some stores are open — my wife and I just bought a new washing machine at Abt Electronics after our old washer broke. Yes, the shopping experience is not the joy it once was. Masks all around, and no jars of Hershey’s chocolates to fuel the deliberative process. We ran in, tapped an Electrolux, ran out.

And picnics. You can’t go to the lakefront. You can’t gather your family, at least you aren’t supposed to. When I think of barbecues at Memorial Day, I think of that joyous moment when the charred hot dogs are heaped on the big oval platter, the poppyseed buns stacked high in their wicker basket, the superfluous burgers glisten nearby. The pickles are slivered, the potato salad mounded. The condiments set out and ready.

People crowd around the kitchen island, elbow to elbow, grins big and goofy, hands shooting out in all direction — plates! forks! — spearing franks, splitting buns, scooping big dense spoonfuls of potato salad.

None of that now. Parades are also out. I suppose some might try a social distancing parade. Good luck with that. The Northbrook Junior High Marching Band, spread out, would cover a mile and take 20 minutes to pass by; “The Stars and Stripes Forever” a thin, disjointed ditty as the horns at Cedar Street try to follow the drums three blocks back at Western.

So sales . . . barbecues . . . parades — we’ve dispatched Memorial Day, have we, no?

Oh wait. I’ve forgotten something, haven’t I? Memorializing fallen soldiers. Honoring our military dead. Silly me, it’s right there in the name of the holiday, Memorial Day.

That’s passed by the wayside, right? Holidays change. It isn’t as if kids are running around on Halloween soaping windows anymore.

What were we honoring soldiers for, anyway? I’m trying to remember. Oh, right! Dying in battle. Giving their lives for their country. That was considered a noble thing, at one point, apparently.

Many Americans think that’s stupid now, right? I mean, how can they descend upon their state capitols, dressed as some homemade parody of soldiers, complaining vigorously because they can’t get a haircut, calling our elected officials fascists for trying to prevent their untimely deaths, then pivot on a dime and get all teary over someone making the ultimate sacrifice?

It’s impossible, or should be. If the idea of sacrifice is so alien that missing Taco Tuesday at Applebee’s is an unbearable infringement on your constitutional rights, then what would you make of the draft? Boot camp? Going ashore at Omaha Beach?

How come Grandpa could manage that but you can’t wear a mask when your government asks you to — begs you, really, waving a ream of scientific data under your uncovered nose? Explaining how doing so will keep that very same grandpa who charged ashore with MacArthur at Inchon from dying over at Twilight Plaza?

A parting thought: Remember that remembering our nation’s fallen does not help a single one. The suffering of soldiers, from a volunteer dying of a British ball taken in the gut at the battle of Breed’s Hill to a Ranger who stepped on an IED bleeding out in Afghanistan, occurred in the unalterable past.

We don’t remember for their benefit, but for ours. To inspire and improve ourselves. You may have always wondered: Would you really rush forward when the landing craft door opened into that German machine-gun fire and the spray and confusion at Normandy? Or would you cower in the back, moaning?

A lot of folks are doing that now. All their words about patriotism and greatness are just a ribbon stuck on the grunting pig of cowardice. Put on your damn mask and get up that beach. Not for your benefit, you big baby. Not for the fallen dead, either. But for your fellow Americans, alive now and trying to stay that way.

We can’t help the fallen dead, but they can help us. They didn’t give their lives so you could paint a sign demanding bingo. Show a little patriotism. Put out the flag. Say the pledge. Wear a mask. And comport yourself like an American, like the brave, selfless dead we honor today. The way Americans once were, and might someday be again.

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