Ponder this:

Monday, May 31, 2010

in memoriam

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.


threecollie said...

Best Memorial Day post I have seen this year. Thanks.

Bossy Betty said...

This post really hit home with me. My dad was just a kid off the farm who got put in WWII for the duration on the war. I often wonder how it changed his life and personality. He never spoke of the war, but had flashbacks of it when there was a thunderstorm.

Thanks so much for writing such a wonderful post.

Susan said...

I grew up in a small town that decorated at the cemetery. I'm glad for that experience. My uncles never really spoke of the bad side of the war, just the interesting things that they thought we, as children, could understand. While they never saw combat, they did have to use guns and stand guard and that in itself was frightening enough. I cannot imagine what our brave soldiers go through. Lovely post. Thank you.

fiftyodd said...

Several of my nephews served in South West Africa (Namibia) in the border war of the eighties. My dad was in an 'essential service' during Word War II and was not called up. My aunt drove an ambulance as a young girl and has shrapnel scars in her leg to this day. War is always terrible and the soldiers are always young.

Carolynn Anctil said...

I agree with threecollie. Best Memorial Day post I've seen. Period.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post, June. Thank you.

Inay said...

every time my mom asked me play the Rambo movie in a complete season...i always caught myself crying..

heroes died and others forgotten
the purpose was well served and
they deserved a welcome with a red carpet...
and not the other way around...

they fought not for their life
but for the one's whose freedom is suppressed

God bless you all...

Bernie said...

I listened to the Memorial Day Observance from Washington D.C. as Bill and I used to do every year. I listened alone this time and it still is so heart rending to realize what these boys and also the girls went through.

This year they included a section on the widows or the Iraqi War and how one widow from the VietNam War helped one young Iraqi War widow. She in turn established a group through the internet and now they help each other and are supportive of each other and meet ever so often. It has helped them a lot of overcome their grief and move on and they are almost all so young.

Fifty Million people died in WWII alone, civilians and soldiers on both sides. Can you imagine?

We don't appreciate our veterans enough. My Bill served 4 years in England, France and Germany and my brother was in the South Pacific for four years too.

This was is different because it is being fought by those who enlist and those who were in the National Guard--certainly not expecting to be serving 4 or 5 terms in an overseas war and not by drafting everyone. Hence we do not pay so much attention to their losses.

June said...

We in this country are very fortunate not to have been the ones whose countries have been, and are, being destroyed. And most of us are lucky lucky lucky not to have seen war first hand.

I have a friend who came here when she was twelve years old. Only once have we talked about WWII, and she said, "They bombed the s*it out of us." She was born after the war was over, but the effects had remained, I gather.

Recently I was reading some blog. One comment expressed the not uncommon American self-congratulatory, "If it weren't for us all of Europe would be speaking German." And a following response said, "Yes, but you got here three bloody years too late!"

So. When I think of our soldiers, I think of the people whose homelands have been changed forever by war.
We here have been so fortunate.

Joe Todd said...

June,my dad was in WW11 also he never talked about it much but I do remember as a family growing up we sure didn't waste much. For the first time in my life I followed our local "celebration" from opening parade to ceremony at the cemetary speeches politicians and all. I'm not sure what has gotten into me LOL

June said...

Joe, it's our age showing...
The long view becomes a lot shorter.

Anonymous said...

I had a post also about this. Lots of people never heard of Decoration Day. But we did.

Living is so difficult these days.
The cost of breathing is so high.
When I think how it used to be
I think I'm gonna cry.

Abraham Lincoln
My Birds Blog

Friko said...

If I believed in the efficacy of prayer I'd gladly go down on my knees. If only we could stop, if only somebody somewhere weren't so damn certain that they are in the right and that the other fellow is wrong and must be annihilated.

it must be the date, I have also posted on the effects of war on those that follow. Naturally, on the other side.
Nobody wins, if only mankind could learn that lesson.

Vicki Lane said...

Excellent post, June! I agree -- most of those young servicemen are of that age that think death can't happen to them.

Barb said...

Beautifully expressed, June. I was off-line for awhile so missed this timely post. I have a young friend in the military now - I believe he thinks he's immortal. I hope he comes back to eat the ribs and salads.