Sunday, May 17, 2015

Memorial Day reflections

Today is Memorial Day. We are so much more solemn about it than we were 60 years ago. Even 50.

Everyone went to the cemetery in the 1940s and 1950s and cleaned up the plots and put out flowers grown in the garden. In Alamogordo, New Mexico, the mulberries in the cemetery were ripe then, and we kids would climb the trees and eat the berries and throw them at each other.

We didn't have a war veteran in our plot. I was in elementary school when I was hurt and astonished to find out that, though we went to the cemetery to clean the plot and visit with the other families, the day wasn't about my brother at all. He, who died fighting cancer before he was four, wasn't a part of the day. His war had not been about country.

We didn't call the Korean War a war at the time; it was a conflict. And then we practiced ducking under our desks in case of an atomic bomb (I always liked that, especially when it got me out of arithmetic). We had The Cold War.

So we were lighthearted, and tended our cemeteries to go home and eat steaks and hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, the first tomatoes and sun tea. There were speeches in the park, which my dad, as a city leader, attended. Usually Mom stayed home with me and we cooked, snuck tastes, and laughed.
Maybe there was a parade. I think so; I think in the 40s, 50s, some WWI vets as well.

War was over, and we celebrated our vets by giving them good jobs and college educations. We built new housing for starter families while the vets worked on their college credits.

The war was paid for. The population invested in freedom. My dad never went to war, though he signed up to go. But he sold a LOT of war bonds. He bought them, too.

Maybe the solemnity today and flag waving is because there have been so many more wars in my lifetime, wars that sill continue, risk on our shores as never before. We honor our veterans. We don't, however, see that they get good civilian jobs when they come home anymore. We don't seem able. Do we make room for them? I read a lot of rhetoric, but I am not sure what really happens.

The VA benefits they are entitled to are still a scandal. Each war teaches us something about medical care. In Vietnam, for the first time, we saved so many paraplegics that would have died in WWII. Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us about prosthetics, partial blindness, closed head injuries and finally recognizing PTSD.

In every war, we lose some of our finest. We have always more quietly lost the women, too; the women who flew cargo planes as "non-combat", the nurses, the doctors the medics. We still lose the women along with the men. Men and women of color fought for freedom in this country and still do. Today, we honor them all. Once, we didn't so much....

We paid such a terrible price in the Civil War. I am told so many of our church hymns from that period touch on heaven and meeting in heaven because so few families were left intact. Almost everyone lost somebody. I think the damage from that war still resonates today.

We lost so many in WWII. And so many men came back from years of war forever changed. They shaped so much of our society, out world today.

Vietnam almost broke us in two again. It didn't. But. Rough years.

So many wars since those happy days as a child, when we finished a war we thought fixed things for a long time. The economy was booming. And everyone could celebrate! and we did.

I remember when the Vietnam war ended, President Nixon was reported to have asked his staff, "Why aren't people dancing in the streets?" After all, so many hadn't wanted it. It was over. But we were tired.

We have soldiers today who are risking their lives honorably and heroically. A lot of them can't tell you why.

We are tired. We are absolutely, bone-dead tired of war.

We are Americans. We ARE united in this. And we honor our vets with a great deal of ceremony and flags. We don't know if or when conflict will ever end.
We will last, our military will last, we will go on. Not a one of us expects a carefree future with war no more. Not yet.
We don't sell war bonds any more. We don't invest. We don't pay as we go along.

We do salute. All of us. Churches pray every Sunday for those in harm's way.

It is a military holiday. It is meant to be.

But the little girl in me, who was never old enough to remember him, still remembers on this day taking yellow flowers to the cemetery for Albert Edward. a little boy who tried so very hard to live and didn't make it.

If he had lived, he would have made a fine soldier.

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