31 May 2010


In the US, Memorial Day is a national holiday established to commemorate soldiers who died while in military service. It is an especially poignant time for service men and women who survived combat, as well as for the families of those who died. One tradition on this day is to visit a cemetary or war memorial, in order to remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives.

My own tradition is a quieter one. If I lived on the east coast, I would doubtless pay homage at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (images at top and bottom, click to enlarge) and at Arlington National Cemetary (image at center) in Washington, DC. My several past visits there have all been moving and cathartic. As it is, I spend this day in solitude, allowing my thoughts to drift back to memories of those I knew during the Vietnam War, and those from other wars as well. It is a truism that veterans share a common history and a common language which others cannot enter. This is what makes it so very difficult to return to civilian life, suddenly isolated from one's lifelong friends, for whom one would have died without hesitation in order to save. It is a more subtle truism that veterans often have more in common with their counterparts on the "enemy" side, than with friends and family from their own culture. The shared experience of war runs deep. Perhaps this is why John McCutcheon's ballad Christmas In The Trenches never fails to move me to tears. It is based on an actual event in World War I. You can hear his song here.

Tangent 1 -- I regularly watch Netflix movies at home on DVD, rented three at a time. By sheer coincidence, the one remaining film at my disposal today is "The Messenger", a story of two GIs in the Army's Casualty Notification Service. Teams of two bear the news of a soldier's death or injury to his/her family. It may sound morbid at first blush, but I can think of few more important assignments than being the caring person in uniform who must help lessen the storm of emotion such news must arouse.

Tangent 2 -- I find it to be singularly tactless and disrespectful that the forces of commerce and greed relentlessly advertise "sales" for religious, military and other holidays. I boycott any store which bombards the airwaves with advertisements for such sales, and encourage others to do the same. When you think about it, these events happen so often that you have to wonder whether the merchants' prices are intentionally jacked up to begin with. How else could they remain in business? There are sales for New Years, Presidents Day, Spring, Easter, Memorial Day, Summer, Independence Day, the return to school, Autumn, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas -- every month of the year. Those who espouse capitalism and free enterprise should be ashamed of themselves for cheapening these holidays with shoddy commerce. The ritual of compulsive shopping and conspicuous consumption started just after World War II, during a time of relative peace and prosperity, and has accelerated and morphed into a national pasttime in the years since. Which doesn't say much for the values of our culture.

Finally, on a lighter note, here is an informative and fun article on the biology, physics and chemistry of grilling. There are cooking tips and a recipe or two, for you backyard barbecue freaks. Enjoy your day. And take a moment to remember those who, at the moment you read this, are stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in other places we don't even know about. Whether or not you support our current wars (I do not), it is important to honor those who serve.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die.

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