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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

A Reflection for Memorial Day

(Please note: Today’s reflection deals with a very disurbing topic: war. Some of you may find this reflection very difficult to read. I understand. I found it very difficult to write.)

Memorial Day will be celebrated next Monday in the U.S. This is the day set aside to remember and honor all those who died while serving in the Armed Forces. It is different from Veterans’ Day, celebrated on November 11, which honors all who have served in the U. S. Military.

Arlington Cemetery

How do we honor those who gave their lives in our wars? By praying for them, by holding memorial services all over the country and beyond, and by decorating their graves with flowers, wreaths, or small American flags. But the most important way we can honor these men and women is by working for peace and justice–beginning in ourselves, our homes, workplaces, churches, local communities, country, and world. With that in mind, I am offering this short reflection for today.

“A Reflection on War and Peace”

Is there a celestial pub in heaven where all who died in battle gather from time to time to share their stories? If so, do they begin by telling the name of the war they fought in and the year they fell?

First Messian War, 737 B.C…. Peloponnesian War, 428 B.C…. Zhao-Xiongnu War, 265 B.C… Second Punic War, 212 B.C…. Fourth Crusade, 1203… Hundred Years War, 1352… War of the Roses,1481… Inca-Spanish War, 1532… Powhatan War, 1622… War of the Grand Alliance, 1690… War of the Spanish Succession, 1710… French and Indian War, 1762… Napoleonic Wars, 1804… Nanjing War, 1831… American Civil War, 1863… Paraguayan War, 1865… Anglo-Zulu War, 1879… First Sino-Japanese War, 1894… World War I, 1916… World War II, 1942… Korea, 1952… Vietnam, 1971… Iraq, 2004… Afghanistan, 2015… South Sudan, 2017… Ukraine, 2023… Israel-Gaza, 2024…

Do they share how they died and how old they were?

By hatchet, 21… nerve gas, 24… spear,18… starvation, 30… canon ball, 25… dysentery, 19… shot down in our B22, 43… strafed by friendly fire, 23… bayonet, 16… sniper bullet to the neck, 19… incoming missile, 33… club, 15… grenade in our fox hole, 21… poison arrow, 20… firing squad, 25… suicide, 24… malaria, 27… went down with the Bismarck, 22… sword, 20… pneumonic plague, 25… roadside bomb, 30… drowning, 26… fire, 24… parachute didn’t open, 20… bunker bombed, 32… drug overdose, 22… drone attack, 27… suffocation in a U-boat, 17… PSTD, 28.

Do they share where they died?

Wounded Knee…a rice paddy in Nam… Ulundi, South Africa… a frozen field outside Moscow… a MASH unit in Korea… Hiroshima… Dhauli Hills, India… somewhere in the Pacific… Jerusalem… Dresden… Crimea… Gettysburg… a roadside in Kabul… Pearl Harbor… Maya Lowlands… Wau, New Guinea… Normandy Beach… Mesopotamia… Concord, Massachusetts… Marne River, France… Waterloo… Taiping, Malaysia… somewhere in the Alps… Anzio, Italy… a POW prison in Vladivostok, Russia.*

And finally, what do these fallen warriors do before they disperse?

They raise their glasses of heavenly brew in honor of each other… they embrace their one-time enemies… they forgive again and again… they smile, they tease each other, they laugh… Then, locking their arms together, they join in one earnest and heart-felt prayer for the end of all wars on earth… and conclude their prayer by singing together in their own languages (which are now understood by all): “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Cemetery


(All photos from Pexels: by Sharefaith, RDNE Stock project, and SA Bond)

I’m offering two videos for Memorial Day. The first is taps played two times in Arlington Cemetery…once in summer, once in winter:

The second video is “Let There Be Peace on Earth” sung by the Voices of Hope Children’s Choir. May the words of this song be our prayer this Memorial Day and every day…

PS #1: The soldier who died in a POW prison in Vladivostok, Russia is my great uncle, the younger brother of my Grandma Svoboda. As a young man he was living in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) when he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s army. He fought on the Siberian front, was taken prisoner, and shipped 7,000 miles from his home in Bohemia to this remote prison where he died of some disease. His family didn’t learn of his fate until several years after his death.

PS #2: There will be no new post next Monday, May 27th Memorial Day. I’m taking the day off. My next post will be Monday June 3rd. Have a blessed Memorial Day!

PS #3: A big thank you for your prayers for Sunday afternoon’s zoom retreat sponsered by the Portiuncula Center for Prayer in Frankfort, IL. About 40 participants joined us in eight states and Ireland and the U.K. Special thanks to Sr. Janice, Megan, and Mary Lou for their help. I had a wonderful time with some beautiful people!

I invite you to comment on Memorial Day, the reflection itself, the videos, or add your own thoughts below. I welcome your input.

44 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    Thank you for this. You’ve made me think of Memorial Day in a different way. The where, the how, the when of fallen soldiers was incredibly powerful. My memory might be a little shaky here, but years ago, while watching Ken Burns’s “The Civil War,” I was moved when I learned that in the early years of the 20th century the men — both from the North and the South — met at Gettysburg for a reunion of sorts. Some them even reenacted Picket’s charge, but when they reached a wall where their northern brethren stood, they shook hands, embraced — all of this caught on film. At that moment, at least for them, there was peace on earth. Again, thank you.

  2. John, Thank you for your words and your description of the northern and southern Civil War veterans reuniting at Gettysburg–this time shaking hands and embracing one another… It reminds me of the “Christmas Truce” in 1914 when the two opposing sides (British and German) ceased fighting on Christmas day, gingerly crawled out of their trenches to meet in no man’s land to exchange small gifts (food, tobacco, alcohol) with each other and even sing Christmas carols like “Silent Night” together. You can read a complete description of that incredible event on Wikipedia. The letters of the soldiers involved are very moving… Thank you for reminding me of this… Melannie

  3. Both of the videos really touched my heart. My husband was a proud member of the US Marine Corps who served in the late sixties and early seventies. He passed away in 2022 from several causes linked to Agent Orange. So, in my heart I feel that he gave his life for his country. I know that he would do it again because he loved this country.

    Let There Be Peace on Earth is one of my favorites. This version was beautifully performed by young people who are our hope for the future.

    Thank you.

  4. Ann, My sympathy to you on the death of your husband. So many who served in wars did it out of genuine love. You remind us also that many of those who returned home after serving in war, carried with them unseen battle wounds–like Agent Orange, or severe depression, or addictions of various kinds–that eventually shortened their lives. Yes, you are right to claim that “in my heart I feel he gave his life for his country.”… Like you, I too love this song–especially when sung by children, our hope for a better future. Thank you so much for writing… Melannie

  5. Dear Sister, your posts are always profound, this one more so because the weight of war is heavy. I am sorry for your loss. Taps always makes me breakdown. The summer scene made me feel melancholy at the loss of all those buried in Arlington and the winter scene brought the cold and pain and loss of war and made me feel the coldness of it all. If you look at the feet of the soldier in winter you can’t see them. He’s been standing there a while. A lone watchman. The children’s group is the very essence of hope with that beautiful song. I first learned it as an 8th grader years ago in 1976 along with other songs that fed patriotic ideas. That is the only song I remember from the ceremony. It moves me with hope and a haunting of the pain from discord at the individual, most intimate of relationships and the immensity of war. Thank you for this post.

    1. Celeste,
      Like you, I too am always very moved at the playing of taps… And the contrast of summer and winter is striking in the two videos. Thanks for calling our attention to the snow covered feet of the soldier, the “lone watchman” as you so beautifully called him. And yes, there’s hope in that lovely song–especially in the faces of the children. Thank you for your comment! Melannie

  6. Thank you so much Melanie for this beautiful meditation on those who have fought for our freedom. My Dad fought in WW1 my brother and brothers-law in the Korean. I’ve nephew nieces
    grand nieces and nephews in the National Guard, army, Air Force and army intelligence. I so appreciate your acknowledgment of them and remembrance of them and all who gave their time to protect us.

    1. Mary James,
      You certainly have many in your family who served our country well in the Armed Forces. I admire everyone who has served in any way in the military. Your listing of them in your comment pays tribute to them. Thank you! Melannie

    1. Bob, I started to write a reflection on “taps,” and this rose up from deep inside of me instead… Melannie

  7. I had the opportunity to travel with one of my grandsons 8th grade class to Washington D.C. Some years ago. Their class presented the wreath when taps was played. It was a somber but beautiful experience. My husband is a Vietnam veteran and unfortunately he is dealing with some health issues due to agent orange. Thankfully he is receiving treatments and we are blessed that the VA is taking care of our Veterans.

    1. June,
      What an honor for your grandson’s class to present that wreath… And prayers for your husband and his health issues. So glad to hear the VA is taking care of him. He and all those who served deserve this special care… Thank you, June! Melannie

  8. Thank you for sharing this beautiful rendering of one of my very favorite hymns. Peace is the only answer and the only way but man’s basest nature is still leading the charge in Ukraine and the Middle East. After all we should have learned through the centuries, wars are still raging…

    Those beautiful children have the answer if only the adults would listen!!

    1. Kathryn,
      I share your sentiments: “After all we should have learned through the centuries…” And yes, let us listen to our children… Thank you for your wise words… Melannie

  9. There is a poignant clip from the movie “1918” where a soldier sings (Acapella )”I am a poor wayfaring stranger” rgt before the soldiers go off to war. It is hauntingly beautiful as you know many will not return..makes me tear up every time I watch.

    1. Mary,
      Your words show the power of images (which go beyond words) to move us and stay with us for years. I’m not familiar with this movie, but your descriptive words helped capture the powerful image for all of us. Thank you! Melannie

  10. Dear Melannie,
    Hope you’re are doing well. Glad to hear your weekend retreat went well and those who to participated were blessed.
    Thank you for the lovely Memorial Day tribute. I give thanks to all those who gave their lives for our freedom. Special thanks for your great uncle who served and gave his life. I prayer he is enjoying that great bar in heaven with all those who gave their lives. My family was fortunate that all our family members came home safe. I thank them for their service and God for protecting them and bringing them home safely.
    May God bless and watching over those serving in the wars taking place in our world and the Civilians in the war zones and affected by the wars.
    May God bring peace throughout our world.
    Blessed Memorial Day! Be safe!
    Jane, CSA

    1. Jane,
      Thank you for responding. As for the recent retreat afternoon, I know I was blessed with the interaction we had–though it was limited because we were on zoom and our time was limited. But the Holy Spirit is good at working within all kinds of limits!… An yes, keep thanking your family members who served so generously… And I join in your prayer for all those caught up in our current wars–especially the civilians… Thanks you for writing! Melannie

  11. I could not view the “Taps” video because the last time I heard it was at the cemetary at my husband’s burial in 2018… is haunting in the best of circumstances, but something I choose not to relive with the actual music being played.

    The children’s version of “Let there be Peace on Earth” filled me with such emotion I could not even hum along, let alone sing….which I usually do….all the earnest hope in their young eyes is overwhelming during these tumutuous times in which we are living. Thanks be to God for their hope!

    Thank you and blessings,
    Mary N.

    1. Mary,
      I can certainly understand why you could not view “taps.”… My sympathy to you for the loss of your dear husband… And I’m happy to hear how deeply the children’s singing moved you… Thank you for your words… Melannie

  12. The Chautauqua institution begins the last week in June for nine weeks. Each day at 8:55 a group gathers to pray for peace. It is just for five minutes. Various denominations takes turns heading the prsyer. Before we leave we join hands and sing…Let There Be Peace on Earth….singing …with God, our creator, children all are we…. For the ten years I have participated, it still reaches my heart and soul. Just those five minutes Let there be peace…..

    1. Jane,
      Thank you so much for sharing this little prayer service held every morning at the Chautaugua Institute! That so many people of various faith traditions come together each morning to pray for peace is an inspiring reality for all of us! And to know you have participated in this prayer for ten years and “it still reaches my heart and soul” is certainly hopeful for all of us! I’m sure we all appreciate your words today! Melannie

  13. Thank you for your reflection. Will ever get to peace.? I was so moved by the children’s song. It reminded me of the pandemic.

    1. Barbara,
      Yes, during the pandemic–which united the world in one way–we saw many virtual choirs… So many diverse people united in song… Yes, the experience can be powerful. Thank you! Melannie

  14. My grandson, PFC, Combat Medic, U.S. Army is currently serving in the Army Medical Corps. Please pray for all those serving, past and present. Amen.🙏🇺🇸

    1. Roseann,
      I will certainly hold your grandson in prayer… as I’m sure others will who read this. Thank you! Melannie

    1. Jean,
      Sometimes the reality of war makes us speechless… Thank you for writing…Melannie

  15. Thank you Melannie for the touching and extremely moving reflection for Memorial Day. Reminds us that we MUST pray every day for peace, an end to war of every kind and within all hearts. Listening to any rendition of Taps always brings me to tears.

    If you have the chance to visit Arlington National Cemetery you will never forget it. Seeing all of those precisely lined up graves of fallen military and family left me speechless for hours.What a sacrifice! The song/hymn Let There Be Peace is one of my favorites as well. Can never get through singing it or hearing it without tears as well. Wishing all a blessed and peaceful Memorial Day.

    1. Loretta,
      I’ve been to Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier… As you say, you can never forget it. When I was in the Netherlands, our Sisters there took us to the American military cemetery where over 8,200 U.S. military peronnel are buried and over 1,000 MIA names are etched on the wall. Even today some of the locals bring flowers to that cemetery in gratitude for their country being freed during WW II. In total, there are 13 U.S. Military cemeteries in Europe where over 73,000 are buried and 15,856 are listed as MIA. You get a glimpse of the “cost of war” by visiting even one of those cemeteries… Thank you, Loretta, for your comment… Melannie

  16. Thank you Sr Melannie for the beautiful and inspiring retreat yesterday. May God continue to bless your work and blog.

    1. Sheelagh,
      It was an honor having you, an Irish Sister, on last Sunday’s retreat! Thank you for being a participant! Melannie

  17. Dear Sister Melanie- From one Bohemian (Beznoska) to another (Svoboda) this Navy Veteran applauds your beautiful Memorial Day reflections piece. Unfortunately, waging war has been with us since time immemorial. The toll and cost in casualties across the world (Death, Wounded, Missing in Action) by now exceeds billions in human lives. All created in the image and likeness of God. There is nothing “glorious” about war; except perhaps for the bravery and sacrifices made by so many who gave their tomorrows so we could have our todays! I come from a proud Veteran family: two grandfathers who fought in WWI, three Uncles fought in WWII, another Uncle who fought in Korea, myself who served during the Vietnam era; my Cousin who fought in Vietnam, and our son who fought in the Iraq second Persian Gulf War.

    I believe General William Tecumseh Sherman ad it best during our Civil War:”
    “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

    1. “Navyman” Norm,
      Thank you for your beautiful contribution to my blog. I thank you for your Vietnam service and the service of your “proud Veteran family.” Yes, we are grateful for the bravery and sacrifices of those who went off to war and their loved ones who said “goodbye” not knowing if their loved ones would ever return…. And thank you for reminding us that (in the words of General Sherman) “War is hell.”… Melannie

  18. Thank you, Melanie, for this thoughtful and wrenching reflection. May we all work for peace!

    1. Veronica,
      I’m glad you found this reflection “wrenching”… because war IS wrenching… Thanks for writing. Melannie

  19. Much to think about in your reflection! We sang Let There Be Peace on Earth at Mass yesterday. What a wonderful prayer!

    My paternal grandparents emigrated from Austro-Hungarian Empire (Moravia part of Czech Republic) in early 1900s as young children with their families. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if they had not emigrated.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sister Melannie! I learn something new each week.

  20. Hi Sister…sorry I’m late commenting on this. I was confused by something you said in your blog. You mentioned the difference between who is honored on Memorial Day vs. Veterans day. You said Memorial Day honors those serving in the Armed Forces and Veterans day honors ALL who have served in the U.S military. What is the difference between the Armed Forces and the U.S. military? According to Google, they are one and the same. Can you clarify?
    Thank you. I truly enjoyed your zoom retreat a couple of weeks ago…it was nice to see you “in person”!

    1. Christine, I used Armed Forces and U.S. Military interchangeably. Memorial Day honors those who actually gave their lives during their military service… I was glad to see your name among those who made that zoom retreat! Thank you for signing up! Melannie

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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