Instead of the typical traditional start of the summer season, Memorial Day this year is taking on a very unusual character. Parades and ceremonies are being canceled in communities across the country because of the fear of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Let me dissent slightly from the belief that Memorial Day is solely about remembering and honoring those that died defending our freedom. It’s also a reminder to the rest of us that the cost of freedom is often paid in the blood of patriots.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the Department of Veterans Affairs could not straighten out how to have the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts continue the tradition of placing flags on the graves in our national cemeteries. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how the flags could’ve been placed while still maintaining social distancing. Veterans Affairs should have tried harder to make it work. Having the scouts place the flags was not just about honoring our dead, but about teaching the next generation.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but I remember the year my children were both in Scouting and participated in a Memorial Day ceremony in downtown Waukesha. They heard all of the speeches about the sacrifices brave men made to protect our freedom. They collected the shell casings after the ceremonial rifle volleys. And, I hope, some of it sunk in.

It certainly seemed to have sunk in a couple of years later when our family visited Pearl Harbor. We took the time to go through all of the exhibits and then visited the Arizona Memorial.

What will always stay with me, and the kids, is the thought that the USS Arizona is still bleeding under the water. Little pools of oil, “black tears,” keep bubbling to the surface, a reminder that a battleship full of men went to the bottom of the harbor after a sneak attack by the Japanese Navy.

Bubbles of oil coming to the surface at the USS Arizona Memorial.
Photo by Doreen Wigderson.

My daughter was fortunate enough to visit Washington D.C. last year and she was able to watch the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. Asking my daughter about it today, what struck her about the respect the guard was showing the tomb. As she and her classmates looked up, three jets were conducting a flyover. In the distance, soldiers fired a three-volley rifle salute at a funeral.

For at least the next generation of Wigderson children then, war is not simply playing Call of Duty video game. They have been fortunate to learn about what it took to keep America free without someone close to them paying the ultimate price.

Other families, of course, are not so fortunate. For them, the cost of preserving freedom has meant the loss of a father or mother, a brother or sister, a son or daughter. It is a debt our country can never repay.

In the absence of the ceremonies and parades, the pomp and circumstance, educating the next generation about the price of freedom may take a little extra effort this weekend. But if Memorial Day is to remain more than just an occasion for bratwurst and potato salad, the extra effort will be worth it.