It's only recently that I've begun to hear Memorial Day once again referred to as Decoration Day, a reminder that the old tradition was to decorate soldiers' gravesites with flags and flowers. My grandmother used to make cemetery visits; I've never been a cemetery visitor. Certainly I have lots of people there to remember, some of them who had been soldiers, although none of "mine" died in battle. It's just something I never did, never grew up doing, going to cemeteries and tending graves. I grew up feeling like the departed weren't there. Wherever they are, they aren't there in the ground.
I see lots of blogs today with moving posts about our (and others') wars' dead.
On Sunday we memorialized our fallen soldiers with barbecued ribs and chicken, pasta and potato salads.
My father came home from World War II with shrapnel in his body; his brother was always ashamed that he had suffered a pre-war injury that prevented him from serving in the armed forces. All the rest of my uncles were somewhere over there during WWII. I only had two male cousins and neither of them went to war. I had no good friends who died on foreign shores. The noble deaths of soldiers is an abstract to me. If I really think about it, I can hardly bear it. I doubt that at the time of a soldier's death, he or she is thinking of the ideals for which his or her life is leaving.
My mother told me a story about an Independence Day celebration she and Dad attended shortly after his discharge from the Army Air Force.
"Somebody set off a cherry bomb and he hit the deck. I turned around and he wasn't behind me; he was flat on the ground."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"I laughed. That was . . . the wrong thing to do."
When I didn't want to finish supper, Dad would fire up with, "I saw kids eating out of garbage pails!" Quotes like that became jokes among us babyboomers. But there was something in his eyes . . . those visions were right there for him.
Even those who don't die in wars . . . parts of them die.
When I see pictures of the soldiers who are recently dead in wars . . . they're all little kids. Such young kids. Abstractly, I think many of them probably signed up for the training offered, the possibility of a career. Almost nobody, I think, contemplates their own glorious death, for real, when they sign the contract to serve in the military.
The ones who come home . . . maybe they'd like to celebrate being alive and able to enjoy ribs and chicken and salads.
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