Poppies everywhere

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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.

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23 thoughts on “Poppies everywhere

  1. On Memorial Day, my mother would take us out to the cemetery and on Veterans Day took us kids downtown to see the parade. My father was largely anti-war after serving in WWII, but still took time to teach us about the importance of the holiday.

    That and the value of properly grilled steaks…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steaks?? We had hot dogs and burgers and Iron City Beer (at least the adults did!) You must have grown up on the right side of the tracks… 🙂

      Interesting that your dad was anti-war. Did he tell you stories of his service? Where did he serve? My father didn’t serve (not surprising he took his exemption because of his age and his family), but I had three uncles who did. Unfortunately, they all died before I really “got it” and could ask them about their experiences. One uncle was a gunner on a plane and was a POW in Germany. I bet he had some doozies!

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      • My father served in WII as a radar repairman in Aleutian Islands. He sat for two years on a rock of an island waiting for an invasion that never came. His fight was against boredom and the cold of the arctic circle. He told a lot of stories about his experience. I don’t think his real anti-war stance really came out until the Vietnam war. I’ve written few of these in my blog.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I had a similar childhood and consider the early years as idyllic. Vietnam pulled me into reality when I lost a cousin and a dear friend. Ever since I read “All Quiet on the Western Front” I have developed a deep sorrow for all of the fallen soldiers, not just ours.
    Your post is thoughtfully written. I hope we listen too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally agree! On our trip in France we stopped at a number of German cemeteries from WWII and a number of German cemeteries in Belgium from WWI, and was very moved. It’s all a great tragedy to lose so many at such a young age when they are.

      As Pete Seeger wrote in his song Where Have All The Flowers Gone, “When will they ever learn…”

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  3. We visited the U.S. Cemetery near Florence, Italy. The lady from the tour company, explained the significance of what we were seeing. Her voice cracked as she pay reverence to the nearly 4,500 soldiers buried there. It brought tears to my eyes, as it was at that very moment those soldiers sacrifice was right there for all to see, and those Italian tour guides felt that sacrifice exactly the way I did…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow – thanks for sharing that. It bought tears to my eyes…

      I was surprised at how vivid the memory is among the French in Normandy. I understand D-Day tourism is big business there, but it was something deeper. The gratitude and memories have been passed down from generation to generation so that they really do remember what the Allies did for them and are still incredibly appreciative. Sadly more so than most in the US.

      We learned that, in many US cemeteries in France and Belgium, families have “adopted” a soldier who died and they faithful tend his grave. So special…

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  4. The trajectory of my life has been very similar to yours. I, also, felt very disappointed in our government due to the war in Vietnam and the civil rights issues. It wasn’t until I traveled abroad that I started to take pride in our democracy and to understand despite its flaws I am gifted to be a citizen of the United States.
    I would invite you to share your post at the Senior Salon today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Darn it Bernadette…I keep forgetting about the Senior Salon. One of these days life will calm down a bit and I will get a piece posted, I promise!

      And I totally agree about travel giving a new appreciation for the US. In a good way. It’s not the “love it or leave it” attitude of those who have never traveled and who are fearful of “different”, but more of a “I really like it here, but I’m glad I live in the US because of our optimism, freedom, opportunity, etc.”

      I love reading people from other countries take on the US – at least prior to this Presidential campaign that is. It’s generally surprisingly positive and upbeat. No telling what it will be like after the election… Ugh,

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This was really well put. Thanks for writing it.

    I’m actually trying to look at the turbulence of our current times through the prism of how an historian would approach it. That way I keep a more detached and academic view of it all, and this also allows me to be less caught up in the emotions of everything. I’m still so shocked and flabbergasted at Trump’s rise, so I needed *some* kind of coping mechanism.

    Liked by 2 people

    • OMG – I totally agree and think you’re on the right track. What helped me, believe it or not, was a visit to the National Gallery last October when I was in DC. Reading about all the shenanigans that went on in some of the administrations and the politics of the time helped me get a historical perspective that, yeah, we’ve been through this sort of crap before.

      But it’s just so hard to accept that we have a person like Trump running for President. I hang my head in shame for my country. The Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves… Having somebody as reprehensible as him running for President just mocks the sacrifice of our best and brightest over the years. I know, I should quit holding back and tell you what I really think… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. some of my fondest memories are going to the VFW with my father growing up. The brotherhood those men formed used to amaze me, didn’t matter what war they fought in, they were brothers. I can remember being Betsy Ross in my small towns 4th of July parade in 1976 the bicenntial. I was rocking the red,white & blue dress my mom-mom made me. I have traveled abroad some not alot, but one thing is I’m so glad I’m a American, we don’t realize how lucky we are. And, that there are people who feel the need to serve in our Armed Forces to allow us to live in freedom. I didn’t serve, but am thankful for those that do. My father served in Viet Nam, 2 purple hearts and 1 silver star, I used to ask him why he decided he needed to do that and he said 1 he didn’t have a choice ( typical trouble maker in his youth) and he felt it was the right thing to do. I have numerous cousin’s that have served since the Gulf War, and 9/11 and everyone of them said the same thing It was the right thing to do. I have a cousin that is just now getting out of the service, he made a career out of it, but am thankful that he made it home. I have a cousin who didn’t make it home so I think of all them on these Holiday’s the ones that didn’t make it, but allow us to live in freedom.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for sharing your touching story… In some weird, crazy way, I was both relieved and disappointed that neither one of my kids felt the urge to serve. Does that make sense? I wouldn’t have liked it at all had they decided to serve – I would have been terrified – but I would also felt very proud they felt called to a higher calling and purpose. Very much a paradox.

      One of my son’s HS classmates and baseball team members did serve and was killed during peacekeeping activities in Afghanistan a number of years ago. It was on national news because they weren’t doing war type stuff, but helping the people in the community they were in improve the community. I think of Andy and his family (he had 2 young children) and parents every time Memorial Day rolls around.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I totally understand your pride and your fear, I just went through that with my son, he just graduated H.S. and was thinking about the Marine Corp…. A former co-worker’s son, tried the college route, decided it wasn’t for him, had a pretty much full ride due to a sports scholarship, he felt really called to became a Medic in the Army so that is what he is doing now after 2 years of college.

        Liked by 1 person

    • It’s truly a special place. What got to me were the headstones that said only God knew who was buried there. 70 years after the fact (10 years before my birth), I fought back tears thinking about those brave, frightened, valiant young men whose lives were cut short.

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  7. What a wonderful post!
    It is even more meaningful to me after spending a week in the police state of Tibet. You are so right–democracy IS messy and we humans are very flawed creatures. But how wonderful to be able to let those flaws hang out, to be able to express our views. And to be able to vote against those that stomp all over our values.
    It is a scary time, but my hope is that the tolerant, caring, generous, kind Americans will show up at the voting booth in November to make sure that those that died for our freedom didn’t die in vain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amen sista! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

      Back in the 70’s I went to then Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany/East Berlin and it was horrible! My brother is a regular visitor on behalf of a non-profit to Vietnam and he has spoken of the suppression and corruption there.

      Yay USA!!

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  8. I have never read more eloquent words on this subject. ” …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.” Indeed, we do and I agree, I hope we listen. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

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