So yesterday was Memorial Day here in the U.S.
Every country has it’s own version of a special day set aside to honor those who have lost their lives in service to their country. Whether you agree with the war/conflict that took their lives or not, it’s important to recognize and honor those who sacrificed their future in the service to their country. And recognize the families who lost precious daughters and sons, wives and husbands, fathers and mothers.
Growing up in the late 50’s, early 60’s in the little town of Aspinwall, less than 8 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, was a lesson in patriotism. The good kind. Not the Trump kind.
The Korean War had just ended in a stalemate, but America was still basking in the glow of becoming the “King of the World” after WWII which was only a short 10 years before. It’s good to be king.
Our local VFW hall was always packed with veterans. It was next to local drug store where I used to sit at the counter with my sister and drink cherry Cokes after going to matinee at the local theater. I think the matinee cost a dime… And the cherry Coke probably cost a dime too.
On summer afternoons, you’d find the vets talking and sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of the VFW. Some of them would be in the small yard at the side of the building playing horseshoes. At the time, I thought they looked terribly old and I was a bit wary of them.
Much how little children may feel now at the sight of AGMA.
Every Armistice/Remembrance Day (now Veterans Day), Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), and 4th of July (still the 4th of July!), Aspinwall held a parade. And all of the veterans came out to march. The oldest were from the Spanish American War. There were lots of WWI veterans too. And paper poppies everywhere.
We dutifully went to every parade. And even though I really didn’t understand what it was all about, I knew that these parades and the people who marched in them were important. Even though they were a bit scary to an 6 year old AGMA…
The biggest parade by far was on the 4th of July. Not only did the veterans march, but half of the town was in the parade too. I remember going to see my 14 year old sister marching with her junior high band playing the stuffing out of her clarinet. She rocked. And there were American flags everywhere – hanging on homes, on the floats in the parade, in people’s hands, on every store front.
To young eyes, it was wonderful. Thinking back on it now, it seems almost surreal that things were so idyllic.
Then came the Vietnam War, the violence of the Civil Rights movement, Kent State, Watergate.
AGMA now looked at the world with older & wiser eyes. And she didn’t feel all that patriotic anymore.
We raised our children with an appreciation for the freedom’s in America and the importance of exercising the right to vote, but we never went to a parade on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day or the 4th of July. We never had any discussions at the dinner table about what was important about those days; why we needed to observe them. To my kids, they were just long holiday weekends.
AGMA regrets that. *sigh*
Only later in life did I realize that, for as flawed as I saw my country, it really is the land of the free and home of the brave. There’s no place on earth I’d rather live.
Well okay – maybe I’d like to live in Ireland for a couple of months of the year…
Democracy is messy and complicated because people are messy and complicated. And dysfunctional and wounded. And egocentric and self-serving.
No wonder our presidential politics are so messed up.
But we have a duty to those buried beneath the white headstones in Arlington, those resting in foreign soil, those who were never found, to try to make our country worthy of their sacrifice. They plead with us to honor their memory by coming together and working to create an America for the 21st century we can be proud of. One that the world can once again look to with respect. They ask us to teach our politicians that patriotism is not the partisanship of being a Republican or Democrat or any other party, but about the spirit of fairness & freedom, concern for the greater good, and unlimited opportunity. About agreeing to disagree and civility and taking the blinders off to see the bigger picture.
I hope we listen to them.
P.S. I took the above picture at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France in 2014.