General John A. Logan, a Union soldier and member of Congress established Memorial Day, known then as Decoration Day, in 1868. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land … Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime, let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor, let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, – the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”
This year, Memorial Day coincides with the release of “Tribe,” a new book by bestselling author Sebastian Junger. Tribe explores post-traumatic stress among our veterans and the challenges they face returning from war in today’s disconnected society.
According to Junger, ancient human behaviors such as loyalty, inter-reliance, and cooperation are common among soldiers in wartime but aren’t easily found in modern U.S. society. These cultural deficiencies create daunting challenges for our veterans returning from combat. He also cites studies that show that rising affluence and urbanization correlate with rising rates of depression, suicide, and schizophrenia.
In an earlier article on veterans and PTSD, Junger said, “When I was with American soldiers at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, we slept in narrow plywood huts where I could reach out and touch three other men from where I slept … The Taliban attacked the position regularly … And yet I slept better surrounded by those noisy, snoring men than I ever did camping alone in the woods of New England.”
“Many soldiers will tell you that one of the hardest things about coming home is learning to sleep without the security of a group of heavily armed men around them. In that sense, being in a war zone with your platoon feels safer than being in an American suburb by yourself. “ Wow.
Junger’s take on tribe and inter-personal reliance touched my heart. Here, in rural and small town America, so many of our friends and neighbors are veterans. Rural Americans opt for military service in large numbers so I always presumed they returned to rural and small towns because of family connections or upbringing. But, if Junger’s right, that’s probably not the whole story. Maybe small town ways, including the sense of belonging and purpose that we expect, indeed embrace, in our small hamlets, create more of the conditions that our veterans rightly need and deserve. I sure hope so because they enrich our communities immeasurably as I’m sure General Logan would agree.
With enduring gratitude and admiration, Happy Memorial Day.
Diane Smith is founder and CEO of American Rural
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