Letter From New York: Memorial Day Memories

Letter From New York

Memorial Day Memories…

Memorial Day originated to honor the dead of the Civil War; it has grown to become a major holiday, primarily honoring the fallen dead of our wars and has had added to it the opportunity to honor all those we have loved who have gone before us in death. There will be parades; wreathes and flowers will be put upon graves. There will be picnics and barbeques; I write this as I am waiting to go to one while savoring the inchoate beauty of sitting looking out at the creek while surrounded by my two acres of trees with somewhere off in the distance the safe sound of someone mowing their lawn.

This is the kind of day when things seem right with the world, safe and welcoming, a suggestion there will be happiness, fun and camaraderie during the summer ahead. We do know there are no guarantees but on days such as this it almost seems as if the universe is willing to offer the promise of one, the soft sweet illusion that the world is really as perfect as the day, as much in harmony as this kind of day. We can momentarily shove aside the harsh realities of such things as the possibility of another nuclear test by the crazy North Koreans, riots in India, the battle with the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan with its overflow into Pakistan, the pirates that plague the Gulf of Aden, and all the other travails of our planet.

As a child I recall neighborhood parades, marching down local streets, full of flag waving and drums, adults and children with smiles on their faces, laughing while dragging makeshift floats and making cacophonous music. There will be parades today, I am sure, in the towns and hamlets scattered through Columbia County. Up in Kinderhook at the café an older gentleman who had once appeared on the Ed Sullivan show did a musical march through the songs of our wars. A friend who found it wonderful phoned his performance in to me.

The Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of the official summer season in the United States; while summer does not officially come for nearly another month, the summer “season” for Americans has arrived. Forward from this day we will march boldly into summer, folding back the tarps covering tennis courts, filling swimming pools and washing down picnic tables while stocking up on citronella.

As I woke up this morning, the local PBS station, much like the man in Kinderhook, was airing a history of patriotic songs, probably going back as far as the Revolutionary War; I, however, didn’t wake up until World War I, followed by WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the first Iraq War, the second Iraq War. It was an intriguing musical history of America, bringing a flood of memories and reactions. Not born until after WWII, I felt a stir of emotions as veterans described their memories of D-Day, the loss of Glen Miller, the meaning to them of the songs of the Andrew Sisters.

The moral ambiguity that came to the Viet Nam conflict was caught in song though I believe that perhaps the most important outcome of Viet Nam may have been to teach my generation to separate the soldiers from the conflict. While most Americans have come to believe the second Iraq War was, at its very best, a flawed enterprise, it also did not mean we needed to execrate the soldiers returning from a war of which we did not approve. We have felt free to embrace and uphold them and to celebrate their service even if we did not approve of the war to which they had been sent to fight.

That, on this Memorial Day, is a thing for which I am grateful.

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