A day to remember those who served Print E-mail
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Written by Fr. Donald Lange   
Thursday, May. 24, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. For some, Memorial Day means the beginning of summer. For others, it is a day off to go shopping.

The purpose of Memorial Day, however, is to honor military personnel who died while serving our country, particularly those who died in battle or from wounds received in battle.

On Veterans Day, we honor those who served honorably in military service during wartime or peacetime.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, which originated after the American Civil War to remember the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war.

Eventually, Memorial Day was extended to honor all American military personnel who died in combat.

Giving the ultimate sacrifice

During the December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleship U. S. S. Oklahoma was sunk by aerial torpedoes.

Navy Chaplain Fr. Aloysius Schmitt of the Dubuque Archdiocese died while helping to save 12 sailors by pushing them through a small porthole.

He posthumously received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Purple Heart, and recently, the Silver Star for his bravery.

In 1943, the Navy named a destroyer escort the U.S.S. Schmitt in his honor.

He was the first chaplain killed during World War II. “Greater love no one has than to lay down life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

When I visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C., I searched for the name of a former student, but I couldn’t find his name.

I also visited Arlington National Cemetery, where I witnessed the changing of the guard near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

These experiences deepened my appreciation of Memorial Day.

Increasingly, in towns and villages across America, memorials are dedicated to those who served our country and sometimes died for her.

Visiting these memorials helps us to remember on Memorial Day or any day that there are American men and women who served honorably and others who died so that we can live with greater security, justice, and peace.

‘Agents of security and freedom’

In no. 79 of the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, it says “Those who devote themselves to the military service of their country should regard themselves as agents of security and freedom of peoples. When they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution towards peace.”

Many men and women enter military service because they desire to protect their homeland’s freedom and security. They sacrifice time, plans, comfort, and sometimes their lives so that we might live in freedom and peace.

When I was in the Navy, our ship docked at Hong Kong, China.

While there, a sailor from a neighboring ship drowned. I was moved to tears at his memorial service when a musician played taps which signals “lights out” and invites military personnel to go to sleep.

At this service, to me, it signified the death of the sailor.

Whenever taps is played at a graveside service, I recall that service!

The sailor’s unexpected death was very sad, but as Catholics we also believe in resurrection. When Reveille is played, it reminds military personnel to wake up to a new day! It reminds me and others of resurrection.

When I was in McDonald’s in Beloit, I encountered one of my former high school students. Some soldiers were also there.

My former student went up to each soldier and thanked each for serving our country. I was proud of her.

Memorial Day is a special day to join her in showing our appreciation for those who served and died for our country.

Deepen our appreciation

On Memorial Day to show and deepen our appreciation of those who served our country, we can:

1. Attend services and memorials to honor those who died in military service. Visit the graves of fallen soldiers and adorn them with flowers.

2. Attend a parade, fly the flag at half-staff from dawn until 12 noon local time, if we have a flagpole.

3. Buy a Buddy Poppy. Disabled and needy veterans in VA hospitals have been assembling Buddy Poppies since 1924. Our donation assists in maintaining state and national rehabilitation and service programs for veterans. Thank a veteran for serving.

4. Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance which asks that at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day that all Americans voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to “Taps.”

Before we receive Communion, we pray the prayer based upon words that the centurion-soldier whose servant Christ cured said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

May we honor and pray for all military men and women who serve and have served our country, including military chaplains. May the Eucharist strengthen us to bring peace to our home, neighborhood, family, church, work, and world.

Let us enjoy a memorable Memorial Day.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.