After stopping to schedule my next appointment at the doctor’s office last week, the young lady handed me a card confirming my appointment and said in a cherry voice, “Have a happy Memorial Day.”
Happy Memorial Day! The words didn’t go together. Memorial Day isn’t a happy day to be celebrated. Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and gratitude. Isn’t it?
I’m old enough to remember when Memorial Day was always on May 30th. Maybe that adds to our confusion about the true meaning of the day. Somewhere along the way, Memorial Day became a three-day weekend.
Today, the long Memorial Day weekend has become the unofficial start of summer. Picnics, backyard barbecues, the Indianapolis 500, mattress ads on TV, baseball games, and if the weather is warm enough, a dip in your neighbor’s pool. Some see it as just an extra day off work.
There’s nothing wrong with picnics or relaxing with friends. But, some seem to have forgotten we should take time to remember who paid the price for our relaxing day or that extra day off work.
As a young girl living in the country Memorial Day, or what my parents called Decoration Day, had a meaning that was a bit more special. Every year, families got all dressed in their Sunday best and headed for Mill Springs Cemetery in Nancy, Kentucky.
I don’t remember a parade, just speeches about war and patriotic songs being sung. Serious faces and snippets of conversations and tears about losing loved ones, a brother, or a father in the war. It was never referred to as World War I or WWII, just “the war.”
Daddy told me the site of Mill Springs National Cemetery was originally a Civil War battlefield. Today the cemetery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. One of the first National Cemeteries created, it still receives burials today. It is one of the oldest National Cemeteries still in operation.
Many smaller towns and communities still have parades with the high school band marching and playing patriotic songs. A color guard usually carries an American flag and flags representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Along the parade route, excited little kids wave small flags and grab the wrapped candy tossed from the elected officals’ cars to those who watch from the sidelines.
In the early 1960s, as a majorette, I marched with the Norwood High School band in an annual Memorial Day parade, down Montgomery Road ending at Victory Park for speeches about the importance of remembering those who had died to protect our freedom.
There were always representatives from the local community, usually a few older men dressed in partial uniforms of the various U.S. military forces; veterans in a shirt, or a jacket covered with military emblems and maybe a few medals. Whatever they had left or maybe what still fit.
All veterans of different wars, they marched proudly. Their faces somber as they stood as straight as their bodies would allow, saluting the bronze plaques in Victory Park of the veterans who died in wars before Vietnam.
Today, I witnessed another small town parade in the community where we now live. Not much different from the parades of my teenage years. A color guard opened the parade, elected officials still threw wrapped candy, and little kids still waved flags. There was not one, but two bands. However, there was no patriotic music, just a drum cadence. I miss the music.
People of all ages lined the parade route; some sitting in lawn chairs, some standing, some putting their hand over their heart as Old Glory went by, or saluting as the veterans rode past in the back of a pick-up truck. The veterans still had somber faces, still wore their uniforms with pride.
I wondered how many minds were thinking about lost loved ones. The husbands, wives, sons, daughters, grandchildren or friends who had served their country, but maybe had never returned from the war they had served in.
Today’s morning TV was filled with images of Americans observing the holiday by placing flowers and flags flapping in the breeze on the graves of fallen soldiers. By the end of the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will have visited cemeteries all across America to pay their respects.
I started to end this blog by looking up the number of those who have died serving their country but stopped, knowing the number would be way too high. It would hurt too much.
In the past few weeks, I have attended celebrations with my family, special occasions such as a sports banquet, dance recital, a granddaughter’s 16th birthday, and watched my oldest granddaughter graduate from high school.
How many men and women fighting for MY FREEDOM would have loved to have been present for just one of those special occasions involving their own children? How long has it been, for some military moms or dads, since they have hugged their children or kissed them good night? I can’t even imagine what life must be like for the kids who miss their moms or dads every day. Just wishing and praying they were at home or on their way home.
Every year, I watch the National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, D.C. Last night the show was hard to watch. I didn’t cry, I sobbed. Instead of just saying nice, appropriate things about our service men and women to make us feel patriotic, or maybe to ease our consciences a bit, they chose to tell stories about true American heroes. Real-life stories about injury, death, and people trying to pick up the pieces of their forever changed lives.
Stories about real-life service men and women who are still struggling to find their way back to an old life, before war. A grown woman told of the heartbreak of losing her father (when she was eight) while he was serving in Vietnam. Another story was of a young husband and father, severely injured in an explosion, who struggles daily with difficult rehabilitation. He will never hug his children again. Never walk again.
All of the stories were so moving, filled with bravery and courage. Stories such as these should be incorporated into history books so our children and grandchildren can gain a better understanding of the horrors of war. Wars are more than names of generals, dates, numbers. Wars do irreparable damage that change people and the world we live in.
This Memorial Day, let us be grateful to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for America’s freedom. It is a debt we can never repay. As Americans, we owe it to our all–voluntary military to appreciate what the true meaning of Memorial Day is.
Ask any Gold Star family, they can tell us what it means. It’s about the men and women who have given their lives for this country. Special men and women who died to make it possible for us to live in freedom.
Starting today, my prayer list will include praying for our service men and women every single day (and their families waiting at home). I invite you to join me in praying for their safety. To honor and respect our veterans, and those who still serve.
Ending on a Positive Note: Wars can’t possibly be the answer. There must be a better way to settle our differences. There must be a way for us to learn to get along, to find peace. As the song that closed last night’s concert says, “Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin with Me.”