What are your best Memorial Day memories? For me, the holiday has, more than not, involved travel. Growing up it wasn’t extensive travel – usually just an hour and a half ride over to the beach – while in recent years the adventures have become a bit more involved. But most of my Memorial Day travel memories haven’t actually been about Memorial Day. Several other trips have been about memorials, however. It turns out those are actually some of my most poignant memories. Here are a few of my favorites.
It took me half a dozen or more visits to Honolulu before I finally put together the logistics of visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial. That was a mistake on my part. The site is incredible in many ways. I was happy to see the memorial, to see the memory of the fallen soldiers so lovingly cared for. Still, it was an incredibly emotional few hours.
I’m arguably more impressed by the memorials maintained on foreign soil than those in the USA. The logistical challenges are greater and they aren’t quite so "in your face" such that it would be easier to forget about them. Fortunately, however, that isn’t how it actually happened. The memorial in Carthage, Tunisia ended up being one of the highlights of our visit to the region, even if we only spent a couple hours of our trip there. More than 6,500 soldiers are memorialized at the site; over 3,700 of them in name only as their bodies were never located.
Not every war memorial is about US soldiers. And while it is an American holiday I think that the other memorials are still worth remembering. Hiroshima was probably the most gut-wrenching site I’ve ever visited. It took me longer than I expected to get over it that day enough to be functional and I certainly haven’t gotten over it completely in any way. It is somewhat comforting to me that the city has become one of the greatest proponents for peaceful resolution to conflicts, rising out of the shadows of such tremendous destruction. But there is a long way yet to go on that front.
The Taukkyan War Cemetery, Myanmar
On the road between Yangon and Bago (on the way to Mt. Kyaiktiyo) Sits the Taukkyan War Cemetery. The site is a memorial to more than 33,000 soldiers of the British Commonwealth who died during the Second World War. The vast majority are remembered in name only on the pillars in the main structure; there are just over 6,400 grave markers on the site. Similar to the US cemetery in Carthage there are a few soldiers recognized for exceptional bravery, in this case via the Victorian Cross. And, in a nod to the broad mix of cultures represented the memorial has English, Hindi,Urdu, Gurmukhi and Burmese languages in the central monument.
I know there are other memorial sites I’ve visited. There was a monument in Perth on my most recent trip, the formal monuments in Washington, DC and a cemetery on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, also from the WWII era. Each brings out different emotions but the overriding feeling is quite clear. So man have died fighting these wars over the years, often far from home. They all deserve to be remembered, more than just on Memorial Day. And in their memory, perhaps, a commitment to fighting less wouldn’t be so bad.
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