IT IS AN inconvenient truth that Monday is Memorial Day, a day of picnics, trips to the zoo, the Shore, the mountains - and mattress sales.

OK, other kinds of sales, too, not just mattresses. In America, Memorial Day unspools like Mercantile Day.

Only a small percentage of Americans attend parades. Even fewer make trips to the cemetery to decorate the graves of those who gave their lives to protect this great and imperfect nation.

After the Civil War, Decoration Day was created as a day to lay flowers on the graves of soldiers, Americans all, who died wearing either the Blue or the Gray. Later, it was renamed Memorial Day, but the idea of honoring the ultimate sacrifice of soldiers remained.

Observance rises during wars and in their immediate aftermath.

We are at war today, although most Americans are more aware of sunblock UV ratings, perhaps because 1 percent of the population volunteers, while 99 percent puts another burger on the grill.

I'm lucky I've lost no family or friends to war, even though those close to me have served from World War II through Vietnam. I do have a newfound friend I've never met, Capt. David Henderson, serving in Afghanistan. I know him because of a column I wrote on how America was breaking its promise to provide a ticket out to Iraqis who risked their lives to work with our troops to stabilize their country.

A 2003 graduate of Roxborough High, Dave graduated from West Point in 2007 and is serving his third tour in the Middle East, now embedded with Afghan security forces.

Our friendship has been through the magic of email. He's due home in a few weeks and I'm looking forward to meeting him in person, shaking his hand and buying him a few adult beverages. I - we - owe him far more than that.

U.S Army Capt. David Henderson, a volunteer, is a patriot. That is a dirty word to some on the left, as "liberal" is a dirty word to some on the right, but that intolerance is a theme for another day.

As a 21st-century warrior, Dave is educated, thoughtful and respectful of the Afghans with whom he serves and tries to protect, even while knowing one of them could use his U.S.-provided rifle to kill him. It has happened to others and there's not much defense.

Some days I have to wait several days to get a response to my email, because spring begins what Dave calls the "fighting season" that tapers off during the colder months.

Every day, to protect you and me, Dave puts his life on the line. He is a patriot in the finest sense of the word.

I am happy that his mention in a Memorial Day column is a sidebar because he is still with us.

Many of his military brothers and sisters are not. As I said, too many of us, as a people, forget we are at war. The 1 percent who serve know we are at war because they are fighting it.

Nothing I can write will make you forego your holiday, and I doubt those who laid down their lives would want me to. They died for our freedom, even for our freedom to be insensitive.

How about this: During your picnic, or ballgame, or even at the mattress sale, will you stop, just for a minute, and reflect on lives the dead patriots did not get a chance to enjoy? Is it too much for you to teach your children, or discuss with your friends, the nature of their sacrifice and to express appreciation for it?

 

Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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