Monday, May 29, 2017

The meaning of Memorial Day

The story of Lt. James Cathey, U.S.M.C. (1980-2005) is told in a photo essay that has been circulating today on Twitter in honor of Memorial Day. Attached to the 2nd Marine Division, he died on August 21, 2005 as the result of an IED explosion in Iraq. The photo essay is part of one that won a Pulitzer Prize for Todd Heisler, then at the Rocky Mountain News and now at the New York Times. 

A haunting image is that of Lt. Cathey’s pregnant widow Katherine, sleeping on an improvised bed next to his casket upon its return to the U.S.. The photo includes one of the local Marines standing vigil, as part of three day guard mounted in honor of their fallen colleague.

Memorial Day was created to honor the war dead of the Civil War. Seeing this photo reminded my of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (as read by Henry Fonda in a recording Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”):
That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they 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, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.