What To Remember This Memorial Day

In 1943, off the coast of North Africa, my grandfather, Burton Poucher was one of 1,149 U.S. soldiers who were killed aboard the HMT Rohna.

The ship was sunk by a newly designed remote control German glider bomb – a precursor to today’s “smart” missiles. It was the largest single loss of life in the sea during the war.

Prior to shipping off, Burton was stationed in Indiana for training. Upon learning that he would be deployed, my grandmother boarded a train for the first time in her life and traveled almost 24 hours to reach him and say her farewell. When she arrived, she was told that he had already left.

Devastated, she prepared to leave. A friend of Burton overheard her and told her that he thought he was still there. The couple was reunited for a final goodbye. Or should I say hello, as that night my mother was conceived. So had my grandmother not jumped on a train, had a random soldier not overheard her and taken her to Burton, my mother would have never come into this world… and of course neither would I.

Burton Poucher is one of an estimated 1.3 million soldiers who have died during our conflicts stretching back from the Revolutionary War through today’s conflicts in the Middle East.

That is 1.3 million sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. As we remember Memorial Day it has become too easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice.

I learned recently from Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, that in the last 50+ years, trust has declined for every American institution but two:  small businesses and the military.

The fact that trust has increased for the military in spite of the fact that almost every military conflict during that span, from Vietnam to the War in Iraq, has been met with mixed feelings at best says a lot about our respect for soldiers and their sacrifice.

It also says a lot about the lack of sacrifice we see in other sectors of society. It is noteworthy that when you look at how frequently the word “sacrifice” is used in books over the last two hundred years (using google ngram viewer) you will find it’s steep decline overlaps almost perfectly with declining trust.

In our daily lives, most of us make sacrifices for our families and friends. But what do we sacrifice for our communities, our fellow citizens, our country?

This Memorial Day as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, ask yourself “what could I sacrifice for others today?”  

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