It’s Memorial Day, or so the calendar says. To me the holiday will always be May 31, for that is the way it was when I grew up. I’ve never gotten used to, nor accepted, the “Monday holiday observed” thing that took place during the Reagan era. I guess I’ll never accept much about the Reagan era, other than a time we had to live through, and which changed our society for the worse in more ways than we will admit to yet. History alone will judge from a more dispassionate observatory point.
This wasn’t meant to become an anti-Reagan rant, but I couldn’t help myself. That’s one of the problems with making this stuff up in real time and just typing in whatever comes to my mind. There I go again.
What I’m trying to write about is Memorial Day.
Writing nearly every day means sifting through my memory banks hoping to strike gold and find a memory long forgotten. Today I found Memorial Day, or maybe the day found me, since the calendar shows it so explicitly.
When I was a kid, it was a day of remembrance, a day to honor those who sacrificed their lives for their country. My little town always had a parade which ended at the main cemetery where the veterans’ graves were decorated with American flags on wooden sticks. I remember the flags waved in the wind and lent color to the cemetery and the rows of headstones. We stood on the road around the main monument and listened to speeches about the honored dead. I didn’t understand it, especially when I was very young, but the pageantry was impressive.
The ceremony always ended when a bugler played taps. No one ever spoke. Everyone just listened.
My father was a WWII vet, having served in the Combat Engineers in the United States Army. He helped build the Alcan Highway, and had fantastic stories about that experience. He went from Alaska to Sicily, then up through Italy, and ultimately served in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.
The only war time experiences he ever talks about was his time in Alaska. The rest of his duty time was spent watching his buddies die, killing to avoid being killed, and being wounded, and recovering just so he could go back and do it all again. It was nightmare stuff, and he never talked about it. Not any of it. What I do know about his time in the service, other than the Alaska time, comes from the stories whispered to me as a child by his brothers and sisters. Dad would never talk about any of it.
All he would say about anything that happened during his European service was that he hated it, hated the military, hated being separated from his family, and hated war.
He told me during the Vietnam era, when my brother and I faced the possibility of the draft, that he would pay for us to go to Canada or Sweden or anywhere else to escape serving in that war. He hated it, for he had lived the life of the warrior and knew that it was not a thing of which to be proud, or which to gauge the rest of your life.
I know that on Memorial Day we memorialize the dead, particularly those who have served in the military. Those who gave their lives for their country. But my Dad made me aware that no one gave their lives. Their lives were taken away from them. And that applies to all sides in a war. The enemy dead were also human beings with families, lives filled with promise and hope, just like our war dead.
On Memorial Day I memorialize my Dad and those like him. Those who saw the horrors of war and determined for the rest of their lives that there was nothing more heinous that man could do than participate in war. Nothing more heinous that a country could do than to ask its young people to die for their nation, and that if they asked for that ultimate sacrifice, that it be for something noble and right. Something without question. Today’s wars wouldn’t fit that bill to my Dad. Not any more than Vietnam did, and he hated the senseless march to slaughter of that war.
Dad, this day’s for you. I remember what you stood for, and what you taught me by example, even more than what you taught me by word. Thanks for your service in a time when war was probably necessary, and for teaching me that war is almost never necessary.