This Monday, 28 May, is Memorial Day. No need for me to elaborate on it. Readers of this blog know how I feel about it as I’ve written on this day possibly more often than any other subject in the nearly 3-years I’ve been posting on my site.
I suppose the point I always look to emphasize on this day is that Memorial Day is not just a day to seek out great sales or toss a bratwurst on the coals. And remembering those who paid it all need not be relegated to a single day of the year. It can happen any time. After all, the root word of “Memorial” is “memory” and the root word of “memory is “me.” Thus, I have always considered Memorial Day to be a time of gathering great memories that have personal impact.
Memorial Day does not necessarily have to be linked to the passing of our brave military heroes. Two of my most powerful Memorial Day memories have nothing to do with the holiday at all.
Remember that great Tom Hanks/Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan (1998)? While most of us were overwhelmed with emotion as that movie wound down, I was taken by the elderly couple sitting about three rows in front of me. They were certainly of the WWII “Greatest Generation” era. After the credits had rolled and the theater was empty, they still sat there. He was crying uncontrollably. She was rubbing his back, trying in vain to comfort him.
I thought about speaking to them for a moment, then decided I was viewing a private and special moment. So I tucked my head and walked away. Who was he remembering? What events were playing in his mind? I don’t know, but I think of him often. It’s my own personal Memorial Day.
The second event is similar. I was visiting Washington, DC in the mid-1990s and had the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Memorial. As I looked around at all the gifts being laid at that wall … gum, cigarettes, letters, toys, crosses, etc. … one man clearly of the Vietnam era was on his knees, gently touching the wall. He was mourning, clearly and reverently sobbing as he recalled a loved one who gave his all in SE Asia at some point during the war.
Again, I thought about saying something, then decided I was invading a private and personal ceremony. So I said a silent prayer and moved on, wiping away my own tears.
So here we go again in 2012. I am participating in three different ceremonies as is the norm for me, and all will be emotional and powerful. But this year, rather than allow myself to be caught up in the melancholy emotions of mourning the loss of those who laid it all on the mantle of freedom, I think I’ll try to channel the emotions of Major John Hottell III. Major Hottell was killed in Vietnam and, in typical Army fashion, he’d written his own obituary and left it with his wife prior to his deployment. These are his words, spoken from beyond the grave:
I loved the Army. Thanks to it, I lived my entire lifetime in 26 years. It is only fitting that I should die in its service, yet I deny that I died FOR anything! Not for my country, the Army, my fellow man, NONE of these things. I LIVED for these things!
Well said, Major! You did indeed live for those things and your life was NOT in vain. This year, Memorial Day will be a moment of solemn remembrance for me as always. But this time, I mourn not the passing of these brave souls. Instead, I give thanks that they lived at all!
I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on [Memorial] Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did. President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901)