Today, or this evening, is the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend in the United States. It is a time to remember and honor those who sacrificed for an idea, form of government, and human rights larger than themselves.
In recent years, I’ve come to view it as my dad’s holiday.
He was the combat veteran in the family. (Some of my uncles also — but they lived a distance away).
Every Memorial Day dad would join with the other members of the local American Legion post in the ceremonies to honor those who had gone before. They made sure every veteran’s grave had a small flag. Then in the morning, accompanied by the high school marching band, they visited each assigned cemetery. (Legion posts cooperated to cover the country cemeteries.) They stood in formation for a short prayer. Then two my two, they escorted young girls (and boy scouts) to each grave to lay a spray of evergreen with poppies. When the decorating was complete — they fired three volleys — and a lone bugle played “Taps”.
Later in the day there were speeches and food and lots and lots of visiting.
Father and daughter ready for the ceremonies.
Memorial Day celebrations have changed a little through the years in this small town. Fewer veterans are decorating more graves. The children dress more casual. The band is smaller. But the emotions in the families watching, waiting, listening to the volleys and shivering at “Taps” stays constant.
Today’s selection is an autobiography published a little more then three decades ago.
By General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos
Flying. In combat. Testing new planes. Breaking the sound barrier.
This book is written in a matter-of-fact and easy to read style. General Yeager’s long career in airplanes began when he joined the Army-Air Corps in 1941. And the rest, as they say, is history.
WWII fighters. Then experimental jets. And he tells of more than the airplanes — his fellow test pilots, the support staff, their families, and the characters that live in the high desert testing grounds — all are given their due.
This modest American hero held my interest while filling in some of my knowledge gaps.
Check for this out-of-print volume at libraries and used book stores.
Now that we’ve wandered around in the fiction section — let’s make a change.
John Adams by David McCullough
This biography of a United States founding father is the second Pulitzer Prize winner for this respected author.
John Adams – lawyer, farmer, patriot, and president — is revealed in narration and portions of his words. He and his wife had a lively exchange of letters. Plus when he was either in the Continental Congress or on missions to Europe he had official correspondence.
So when you’re looking for some American history, well-written, and able to hold your attention — browse your bookstore or library for this volume.
This weekend is a holiday in the United States. On Monday we officially remember those who served and sacrificed in defense of our country.
My father was a WWII veteran. Memorial Day will always remain in my mind as his holiday — no, he was not killed in action. He recovered from his physical wounds, lived an active life, and died when elderly.
On my recent vacation in England (are you tired of the photos yet?) I saw many memorials honoring the soldiers and sailors from a particular place or those who saw service at a specific time and place. The African War. The Great War. Animals in War. Admirals and generals and statesmen tested by events larger than themselves.
This quiet little gesture in Salisbury Cathedral touched me and flooded my heart with thoughts of my father, his comrades-in-arms, and their children.
Please do not misunderstand the title. I’m not a lobbyist. Big campaign donations are beyond my bankbook. (And my personal beliefs.)
However: Every time I leave my home I take a collection of presidents with me. My companions vary. Some are printed on paper and mixed with a non-president. (It would be fun to make that plural, but the denomination featuring Benjamin Franklin is larger than my usual cash on hand.) Others, like this small collection, are round, flat, metal, and tend to escape an old coin purse and hide in the bottom of the purse.
Did you realize Lincoln faces the others?
Calling the profile on the dime a “man in a business suit” brought a quick correction from my mother during childhood.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day — a celebration begun 97 years ago to mark the end of “The War to End All War”.
Since human nature contains greed and lust for power, we’ve had war in the world since. Large ones. Smaller ones. Those that end with a truce. Those that seem to go on forever.
Don’t blame the soldier. Or the sailor. Or the flyer. The vast majority of them do their job to the best of their ability. They follow orders. Travel in difficult conditions. Suffer from exposure and loneliness in addition to the assault of the other side. Give them honor for a job well done. Give them a smile. A hand up when the transition to civilian life proves difficult.
A National Day of Service. Somber ceremonies of remembrance.
In the United States today many people will participate in one or both of the above. It’s been fourteen years now and memories are beginning to fade. High school students have either faint or no memories of these events beyond media replays and adult conversations.
It is a sad commentary that each generation experiences at least one large, national, moment of grief.
The World Trade Center attack
The Kennedy Assassination
Let your thoughts and actions today reflect the positive feeling of patriotism, citizenship, and unity without tragedy. Participate in a community project. Pick up litter. Smile at your neighbor.
He volunteered. Answered the call — over the initial objections of his family.
He wasn’t the only one. Thousands, tens of thousands, of men willingly left home and family when their nation called. Others were persuaded, called up, or drafted. It didn’t really matter in the end. They reported. Followed orders. Performed their duty. Sacrificed. Returned home scarred or whole in body. Nearly all were changed internally.
He wore his ribbons with pride. Marched in every Memorial Day ceremony until his physical body failed him. To honor his comrades. His country. A country that recognized his gallantry — twice.
A soldier’s record of service. From the top.
Combat infantryman. Battle campaigns – Europe, four (Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe). Good conduct. Purple heart (three wounds). Silver star for gallantry in action (twice).