From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Memorial Day 2002: ‘Genuine heroes are back in vogue’

by Irwin C. Benken

(From the May 23, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: Irv Benken was president of the National Catholic Cemetery Conference. He prepared this statement for Memorial Day 2002 and finished the article shortly before his death last month.)

Memorial Day celebrations have become somewhat blasé. Sure, there were small town parades with crepe-papered bicycles, a color guard, and high school bands. But what Memorial Day became for most people was an occasion to do spring yard work, picnic, go to a ballgame, or watch the Indianapolis 500. Kids got an inkling of its real meaning when they caught sight of older men in tight-fitting uniform coats with faded ribbons on their chests. Who were they, and what’s the big deal about them? Are these old guys, marching so seriously in unison, just living in a past that doesn’t mean anything anymore? It’s true: Memorial Day was fading as a day for heroes, memories, and patriotism. Not anymore.

The traumatic events of Sept. 11 have changed all that. The horrors of that day have affected our nation like a near-death experience affects an individual. They have powerfully reminded us what is really important in life. Americans have been nudged to turn closer to their families, hug their children, and thank God that there are heroes who have hearts big enough for all of us to rely upon.

This year Memorial Day is different. Genuine heroes are back in vogue. Not only the brave firefighters and police in New York and every American city, but our military personnel – living and dead – who fought our wars, kept us free, and withstood evil men as dangerous as any Osama bin Laden.

If we can look past the tight coats and old faces we will see young faces who left home years ago and said good-bye to parents, girlfriends or boyfriends; we’ll see youth who boarded trains and planes, not knowing if they’d ever come back again. We recall their courage and realize the immensity of what they did, and we tremble at what our country might be, had they not chosen to do so.

Millions and millions of American young men and women have fought and suffered for us in many wars over many years. How could we have gradually come to take them for granted? In times of peace and abundance, how could we permit our youth to wonder “Who are these older people marching so proudly?” A country without an awareness of history is much like a person without memories – hollow inside.

I am honored to be the President of the National Catholic Cemetery Conference at this point in history. My thoughts go out to our Catholic cemeteries all over this land as I think of the service- men and women whose remains we cradle in our grounds and buildings. I make my own the words of the writer Moore, “My memory runs like a tomb-searcher throughout the past, lifting each shroud so we can meet again those wonderful ones we remember.”

Humans always hope to leave something lasting behind themselves. The mighty and wealthy can leave buildings and monuments. All of us, however, can leave something most precious that outlasts the years. We do so when we reach out – in large or small acts – to love someone, to care or sacrifice for another. When we do so we become instruments of life, heroes who rise above our tendency toward selfishness. Acts of love are really the most exquisite gifts we can leave behind us.

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