May 29, 2017
The Greek word anamnesis sometimes translated as remember, means simply “not to forget.” It is often translated as “memorial sacrifice” which is how this American holiday was set aside to be celebrated the last Monday in May.
The intention is to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. In addition to honoring the military it was also a time when families remembered their own deceased members and put flowers on their graves, thus the term Decoration Day.
I remember marching in Memorial Day parades as a Boy Scout and being miserable during a long, usually hot walk to the town’s cemetery where the mayor and other notables gave speeches. The best part for me was when it was over and we could go get ice cream at a local dairy. I did not know then that the Boy Scouts was a prototype for the military with all the accouterments including how it was organized and functioned, even camping out.
During World War II, I remember driving along streets and roads and looking for service flags that hung in the windows of families who had sons and daughters serving in the military. Those flags showed stars for each member serving, blue and gold stars, the latter for someone who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Some flags had as many as three or four stars and those flags were hung with pride and sometimes, sadness.
My father volunteered to join the Navy but was rejected and served instead as a CiviI Defense air raid warden. I remember my uncle who came home wounded from that war, not so much physically as emotionally and I suppose today he would have been diagnosed with PTSD. His tank was blown up and he was the only survivor. He could not talk about it and within ten years he was dead from cancer. I often thought his internal stress contributed to that dreadful disease.
After Viet Nam I remember reading, in 2009, two-thirds of the homeless men on the street were veterans of that war and I talked to some of them. Those conversations helped me to understand better the kinds of demons they were fighting just to stay alive. They saw their friends killed right in front of them and knew they could just as easily been dead. Many had nightmares of their war experience and felt as if they were there again.
More recently, and today, we have men and women in harm’s way, as it’s euphemistically called, in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. Our nephew drove one of those monster machines looking for roadside IED’s. That’s the abbreviation for Improvised Explosive Device and it is often used as a roadside bomb to blow up convoys of vehicles. He has survived three tours of duty and is now an instructor in the paratroops.
Just a few years ago, my step-father died and because he had served in the U.S. Army he was given military funeral honors complete with an honor guard, a final salute with rifles fired into the air and the flag that covered his coffin was presented to his nearest family member, a son. It was another time for remembering.
I remember visiting Normandy and that cemetery, standing in awe-filled silence, reading the names, thinking of the families, the sacrifice made by so many so young in such a horrendous battle for freedom.
So we set time aside this weekend to honor the men and women who have served in the armed forces and paid the price for all of us who continue to live as free men and women, lest we forget. Here just two stanzas from “Ode of Remembrance”
“They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”