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Monday, May 25, 2015

Please Don’t Call It “Happy”

On this Memorial Day, my wife Rhonda and I find two recurring aspects of people’s awareness of this annual holiday a bit irritating. First, it is not a day to honor our military service members past and present. That is why we have Veterans Day. It’s commonly misunderstood, even by people who should know better.

The second “irritation” we found on a billboard near downtown Plainfield. It also is a common misunderstanding. Happy Memorial Day! Uh…don’t think so.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It arrived with the pains of our nation burying more than 500,000 Americans in the Civil War. Hardly a “happy occasion.” Only recently did the number of Americans who have died in the totality of foreign wars eclipse those who died in the Civil War.

And so today, millions of Americans place flowers on the graves of those who have given a bitter contribution to freedom: life. What amazes me most about the commitment of many soldiers — I’d even say most soldiers — is that they do this willingly. Yielding up the greatest sacrifice we have as humans out of a love for country and fellow countrymen requires immense courage. And commitment.

One man who sees the enduring pain associated with this commitment is Darrell Stafford. For 32 years, Darrell has served as interment supervisor at Arlington National Cemetery. This means he oversees proper burials of both coffins and cremated remains of military veterans. Stringent requirements exist for below ground burial at Arlington.

In the New York Times story about Mr. Stafford, I learned that Memorial Day is among the busiest, most solemn of times at Arlington. Over the weekend, about 150,000 people were expected to visit the graves of their loved ones. There is a team of twenty caretakers along with Mr. Stafford “who conduct the burials of both coffins and cremated remains.” (

Services at Arlington’s 624 acres are highly detailed. This requires an abundance of preparation. According to the Times, “Since 1864, more than 400,000 people have been laid to rest here, with additional burials every weekday. That number includes presidents, active and former military personnel, spouses, and their dependents.”

Among the most solemn elements of the ceremony is the playing of taps and the gun salutes. Those bugle notes are always eerie to me. The gun firings offer a jarring reminder of the not-so-fond farewell.

Thank God today for those who have sacrificed so much for you and for me. Jesus of Nazareth clearly communicated the value of their dedication when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13/NLT) No greater love. No greater sacrifice.

All the tears in the world cannot bring back the men and women who died in service to their country. Among the things we can do, is to recognize that Memorial Day honors those who died in service to America. And to realize that for those who continue to grieve their loss, this holiday is anything but happy.

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Catch “Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand" weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life. To listen to the live broadcast or a podcast of previous shows click here.

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