By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
The earliest report of an observance honoring fallen soldiers, dates to the end of the Civil War. According to an article from The New York Tribune that first “Memorial Day,” then called “Decoration Day,” was held in Charleston, South Carolina when African Americans, mostly former slaves, gave 257 Union soldiers a proper burial. The Black community consecrated the new cemetery with “an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people,” led by 3,000 Black school children. It occurred on May 1, 1865, barely two weeks after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Related Post: “Pausing For A Moment On Memorial Day 2022”
Today at Arlington National Cemetery, President Biden laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which contains the unidentified remains of a soldier from World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It is a sacred memorial to all the “unknown” soldiers who lost their lives in battle. Yet there are thousands more who have made the ultimate sacrifice but whose true identities will never be known either — the LGBTQ soldiers who served and died in silence.
Military personnel take an oath to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” It is a Constitution which for over 200 years did virtually nothing to “support and defend” its LGBTQ citizens and yet they swore to support it, defended it, and gave their lives for it. It’s easy to wave the flag, spout conservative rhetoric, and call yourself a “true” American; but the genuine measure of a patriot is fighting for the idea of justice and equality, even though it has yet been granted to you.
The Veterans Administration estimates throughout American history there have been 1.2M deaths during wartime. Accepting statistically, 10% of the population is LGBTQ that’s 120,000 people from our Community who, as President Lincoln said,
“…gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Let us honor them all today, especially those from our Community whose place in America and its history is being challenged, threatened, and even erased. Connecting the millions of Americans who served our country fighting fascism and authoritarianism, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who now rest in cemeteries both here and abroad is the full truth of America’s history. There can be no greater dishonor to them than to hide, alter, or attempt to cover up the facts about the nation for which they died as many state legislatures continue to do.
“Memorial” is thought of as a static thing, an object, or to stop for a moment. It is time we start thinking of it as an action, a directed purpose, to honor the fallen by protecting, ensuring, and fortifying our American democracy from within — beginning with truth. Today when you hear “Taps,” first respect and reflect on the sacrifice of the fallen; then let it be the clarion’s call to stand up for truth to protect our freedoms.
Related article: “Taps Across America 2023 Memorial Day at 3pm”
Our Community has proudly fought and died for America as much as any other. We are equal in all things American, including sacrifice.
Can you tell which ones are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer?