Memorial Day has a distinct meaning for the veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and the families of the 5,400 Americans who have died in these wars.
Just ask Carlos Arredondo, whose son Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo was one of seven Marines killed in the battle of Najaf in August 2004. Alex was 20 years old when he died.
“A lot of people don’t get it,” says Arredondo.
Since Alexander’s death, Arredondo has traveled the country in his battered pickup truck, which he’s turned into a makeshift memorial for his son.
On its bed lie a military-style coffin and some of his son’s prized possessions. On its sides are poster-size photos of Alexander and gigantic American flags.
“I want people to stop for at least a moment and see,” he says. Sometimes, he parks his truck on top of a freeway overpass during rush hour or near a busy intersection.
When people cross the street to avoid him, Arredondo doesn’t blame them. It can be hard to understand loss if you haven’t experienced it yourself, he says: “I didn’t know what it’s like to have a family member die in the military until my son died.” These days, most Americans have stopped paying attention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and media outlets have been more than happy to oblige.
The Pew Center on People and the Press found a mere 1 percent of news coverage from May 13-16 was devoted to coverage of Iraq — well behind news about the economy, the Gulf Coast oil leak, the Supreme Court, Europe’s financial crisis and even the elections in England.
But the public’s indifference doesn’t mean the wars are over.
On May 24, the Defense Department announced the death in Kirkuk of Spc. Stanley Sokolowski of Ocean, N.J. The next day, the Pentagon reported Staff Sgt. Amilcar Gonzalez of Miami had died in Ash Shura in Northern Iraq after his unit was attacked by small arms fire.
For the larger public, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars could be the first to be forgotten while they’re still going on.
But Carlos Arredondo is one of thousands who cannot, or will not, forget.
He will be on Boston Common on Monday with the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, planting a flag for each Massachusetts soldier who died as a result of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Later in the day, he’ll join another memorial, this one organized by Veterans for Peace, to remember civilian casualties in these countries, who number between 100,000 and 1 million.
Arredondo is not sure when he will stop traveling, publicly mourning his son’s death and the deaths of others. But he knows he’ll continue at least until the wars are over.
For him, every day is Memorial Day.
Aaron Glantz, an editor at New America Media, is the author of the book “The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans.”