Across the nation and wherever groups of American citizens have settled around the globe, Memorial Day is celebrated by war veterans who march in rousing military parades and by flag-waving enthusiasts who cheer them from the sidelines. It is a day for the public display of patriotism and appreciation for the courageous men and women soldiers who've made sacrifices to serve the nation.
Many people make commemorative trips to participate in major Memorial Day parades and wreath-laying ceremonies at monuments honoring veterans of World War II and the Korean War, and at the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial Wall. Veterans of current conflagrations don't have a monument yet, but it is essential that we honor them and look to their needs on Memorial Day.
Whether national or local in scope, many Memorial Day parades and ceremonies are followed by family gatherings and feasts that celebrate the beginning of the summer season. Memorial Day weekend has actually become a multipurpose holiday. As a result, Memorial Day itself may have lost some of its focus and its meaning for a nation that has been engaged in ongoing conflicts for decades. Let's face it, some people think of Memorial Day Weekend simply as a the perfect opportunity to get away for a three-day adventure.
Whether you celebrate your Memorial Day Weekend by marching in a parade or watching from the sidelines, or visiting the graves of family or friends whom you've lost to war, or even if you celebrate the holiday by escaping to the beach, it's important to remember to spend part of the Memorial Day Weekend thinking about the nature of war, about why wars are fought, and about the impact of war on the lives of those who've had direct experiences with it, either as soldiers or as the families of soldiers, or as nonmilitary citizens who are struggling to survive in a war zone.
The documentaries on this list cover diverse subjects, but all focus on stories about fallen and surviving heroes, and will guide you to reflect upon the efficacy and impact of war. Watching some or all of these stirring documentaries during your Memorial Day Weekend 2013 may just make you a better citizen.
International Film Circuit
Heather Courtney's intimate and insightful documentary follows three Midwestern high school graduates who, not knowing what next to do with their lives, join the National Guard and wind up deployed to Afghanistan. The film recounts their combat experiences and returns home with them to see how the reenter civilian life in their rural Michigan community.
This well-balanced documentary profiles of eight American soldiers, each of whom was deployed to fight in one of America's wars. Their combat experiences caused each to grapple with the moral efficacy of killing -- even during combat. They each returned with strong personal convictions that they share in this film. Four of the soldiers believe that killing is wrong and have refused to kill. Four believe that killing in times and under the conditions of warfare is necessary and acceptable. The documentary shows that most combat personnel struggle with making the decision to kill or not to kill, and that this issue has lasting effects on their future lives, outlooks and behavior.
This is the story of Sgt. Nathan Harris, a young Marine who intended to make the military service his life's work. While he and the Marines of Echo Company were on their deployment to Afghanistan, Sgt. Harris sustained injuries that left him crippled for life and in constant pain. Filmmaker Danfung Dennis follows Sgt. Harris through his deployment in Afghanistan to his return to North Caroling, chronicling his injury and the course of his rehab, and the effects his disabilities have on his psyche and his family, particularly his wife.
Room 11 Productions
In current conflagrations, women soldiers who find themselves on the front lines, often suffer emotional trauma that changes their lives. In Lioness
, filmmakers Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers follow a group of courageous women soldiers who were deployed to Iraq as support personnel -- supposedly to serve as mechanics, cooks, and clerks -- but found themselves in actual combat situations. Known as Team Lioness, they are the first generation of American women to return home as combat veterans. This film is their debriefing, and their gripping stories are heartbreaking.
While embedded with U.S. soldiers serving with the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade, filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger chronicle the troops' day to day routine while they're building a military outpost during their 15-month deployment to the remote Korengal Valley, a volatile area in Afghanistan. Without comment or personal intervention, the filmmakers show what it's like to be at war. The soldiers are in constant danger, under extreme stress and always fearful. And they are devastated by the death of their beloved medic, Juan 'Doc' Restrepo, for whom the outpost they're building and this film are named. The film premiered in 2010. In 2011. filmmaker Tim Hetherington also became the victim of war, when he was killed while covering the conflict in Libya.