MEMORIAL DAY – 2017
A time of family fun, cookouts, parades featuring the local Boy Scout troop, the high school marching band, and a few scruffy Viet Nam veterans with gray pony tails, the playing of Taps at the local cemetery, a 3-day holiday weekend heralding the beginning of summer, and VFW members hawking red poppies in the middle of street corner intersections. (What’s the deal with the poppies?)
We celebrate the holiday, to be sure. But where did Memorial Day come from, also known as Remembrance Day in Great Britain?
World War I: 10 million military troops died, 7 million civilians died, 350,300 US soldiers died. My wife’s grandfather convalesced in a sanitarium after the war due to lung problems caused by being gassed in the trenches of France. Of the approximately 200 soldiers in his unit that went overseas, only 28 returned alive! Had he not returned, my father-in-law, my wife, my sons, and my grandchildren would not be here today.
The company at Camp Custer, Michigan prior to going overseas (at top). Those who returned (above).
World War II (barely 25 years later): Our fathers’ war, both drafted into the Army. Total dead: 16 million military troops and 45 million civilians, including 407,000 US military personnel and 12,000 US civilians.
Followed immediately by the Korean War.
Then the Viet Nam War: The war of my generation. My brother-in-law loaded bombs onto US war planes in Viet Nam. I served in the Army in the Asian theater during the war. 58,300 US military men and women died. My high school classmate died in the early years of the war. My wife’s classmate became an alcoholic as an aftermath of the war and was killed in a shoot-out with police a few years later. In total, an estimated 450,000 to 1,170,000 died.
And since then, innumerable “minor” military actions, and now the “War on Terror,” lasting over ten years (longer than both World Wars combined), now morphing into a war to “wipe out militant Islamic terrorists.” I wonder if war in the Middle East will ever end. If we fail to heed what history teaches us, I fear not.
Lest we forget why we celebrate Memorial Day, I invite you to take a few minutes to watch and listen to these videos – click on the titles of the songs.
(You will also find out what the red poppies are about.)
also known as “No Man’s Land” and “The Green Fields of France”
(written by Eric Bogle following his 1976 visit to military cemeteries in Flanders and Northern France)
The song references two other melodies, the Last Post and Chorus and the Flowers Of The Forest.
During the 19th century, the “Last Post” was carried to the countries of the British Empire where it has been incorporated into military funerals and played as a final farewell, symbolizing the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over, and that they can rest in peace.
“They shall not grow old, as we who 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.”
A lament written for the army of King James IV (“the flower of Scottish manhood”), the army that was slain with their king on the Field of Flodden, September 1513.
You may remember the iconic protest song of my day, written by Pete Seeger, and made famous by the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
“Where have all the flowers gone, lone time passing…gone to young girls everyone…where have all the young girls gone, long time ago…gone to young men everyone…gone for soldiers everyone…where have all the soldiers gone…gone to graveyards everyone…gone to flowers everyone.”
– And the cycle repeats –
“When will they ever learn…Oh, when will we ever learn?”
For our Willie McBrides a century later…
it still happens again, and again, and again, and again!
Have a great holiday weekend, but