Ahh – Memorial Day, 2015 is here. It’s time for family gatherings, swimming and barbeque, and mostly for remembering those who paid the ultimate price for our country.
Let me say first, that I think that the conflation of holidays in recent times has diminished the true meaning of Memorial Day, which is remembering the brave patriots who sacrificed their lives in defense of our country and way of life. As much as I appreciate the active duty military on Armed Forces Day, or those who live on past their service years on Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day is not their holiday, it should be reserved for our fallen soldiers.
My family was fortunate, in that since the Civil War we haven’t lost anyone in battle, but Memorial Day for us was a mixture of both outdoor grilling and remembrance of fallen heroes. All the aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins would gather at a picnic ground and cook up a mess of hamburgers and hot dogs along with baked beans, potato salad and chips. After a big lunch, during the mandatory hour long break before going back into the water, our aunts and uncles would tell us of the men and women they served with who did not come back from war.
We heard stories of comrades in arms lost while bravely driving bulldozers in New Guinea, victims of sniper fire from the edge of the jungle. There were stories of friends lost in the desert fighting in North Africa and the subsequent invasion of Italy under General Patton. More losses came in the snow covered hedgerows of Europe and in sun drenched Naval Air campaigns in the South Pacific fighting off Kamikaze attacks on aircraft carriers. These stories were told quietly by our slightly teary eyed uncles and our aunt who served in the WAFS. They did not talk about their own part in the war but only about the friends that they still missed 20 years later.
Now, 70 years after WW II I can still see clearly in my mind those images of brave actions taken by soldiers who fell before I was even born. My generation’s story is added to the tapestry of images, my friends lost in Vietnam over 40 years ago. These newer images are different from those generated by my forefather’s stories; they are of my friend’s faces as we were growing up and going to school together. Finally in the fullness of time, I have come to understand the viewpoint of those telling those Memorial Day Stories of my youth. They were remembering the lives, not the deaths of those who gave all.
Finally, the stories of those with whom I served come to mind. During my time in the Navy, I was fortunate in that I never sailed into an active theater of war. My own experience in the Atlantic Fleet had a few moments in pursuit of Soviet submarines that our sonar picked up but mostly it was quiet periods of patrol and drill. However some of my shipmates went on into active war zones and some of them didn’t come back. Like the kids I grew up with, I remember their smiling faces standing watch on the bridge or relaxing on the fantail lit up by the light of the sparkling sea.
So, as I bite down on that juicy hamburger this weekend and relax while listening to some old tunes, I will remember my personal heroes and those of my forefathers. I don’t think that it is wrong to have family gatherings or barbeque on Memorial Day. This is what they fought for. They would not want everyone to be sad. They would want to be remembered. So – to all my fallen shipmates, fair wind and following seas, this one is for you! Oh MY!