Today is Memorial Day in the United States, the day when this nation’s war dead are officially honored. For those around the world who are unfamiliar with how it is celebrated I offer this brief description.
I grew up in New England, the northeastern part of the United States punctuated with small, agrarian towns and deep traditions. Memorial Day for us always began with a parade down the center of our tiny town, the procession being lead by serious looking veterans of past wars carrying the national and state flags. The then-aged veterans were gleefully followed by all manner of celebratory vehicles; fire trucks, riding lawn mowers, and little red wagons pulled by happy parents. The high school band was usually present along with the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts. The parade normally ended in the town cemetery where a brief service near the grave of one of the town’s fallen and accompanied by a lone trumpeter playing Taps off in the distance under the huge oak tree.
When I was younger, marching in the high school band it all seemed like a fun prelude to summer vacation. Now, almost thirty years on, after twenty years of military service around the world, the day takes on a different significance. The young faces of the scouts and band members and glowing, smiling, and carefree. To them the day more of a celebration of up-coming school vacation, a time for shorts, swimming pools and ice-cold soda. They can’t comprehend the meaning that it holds for those serious men carrying the flags at the front of the parade. Nor do they fathom that in less time than they realize that it may be them carrying our nation’s colors, or who’s grave the precession stops at to observe a moment of silence on this special day.