I have attempted this essay since the end of February last year, I think that it’s the longest I have tried to put together one of these essays for a holiday. I have been having a hard time trying not to go over the edge between taste and anger for some of the things that have been happening in the present, so I hope that you will forgive me if I lapse into a brief outrage something that I hope to do but once if at all and as I begin this attempt again and hope to let you read it this year I must say that there have been free elections this day in Iraq what happens next is anyone guess but I know that the people have spoken and we can only hope that there will be an end for our troops and a new beginning for the Iraqi people, in more ways than one.
LEST WE FORGET, a book that I read so long ago that I can no longer remember the author or any of the words that were written on the pages for that matter. It wasn’t very long maybe twenty pages or so. I seem to remember it was written like this essay or was it in a poem, either way it was written especially for Memorial Day. I can say that it had an impact on me, I know what you are thinking; if you can’t remember the words how could it have had an impact? To answer that I think all I will need to do is tell you what I do remember about the book. The book could have easily fit next the Dr Seuss books as they were about the same thickness and size. The cover art was a familiar site for those that have been to war or for those that have watched war movies. A riffle shoved into the ground muzzle first, before a tell-tale mound of dirt, a helmet resting on the butt tipped to one side a round medallion hanging over the trigger of the riffle. The book was a tribute to the fallen soldiers of this country. No politics, no what ifs, no why did this happen, just this happened let’s not forget those people. We, those of us that the book was intended for, stand up and salute them this day, as we should every morning that we wake up and breathe the air that is freedom. And that is all I need to remember about the book.
There is a time that none of us know why our parents force us to sit on the side of a street early in the morning as bands passed by, so loud that we’d have to cover our ears with our hands. When the bands had gone by you would turn around and look to your parents who would be smiling at you and clapping. It was as if you were supposed to be happy that you couldn’t hear anymore. When it was over they’d take us home or over to a family members home. Then again they may have even taken us to a friend or neighbors. Either way you would spend several hours playing with your cousins or the neighbors and their cousins. You weren’t sure why but your older brother or sister didn’t have to go to school that day. There was always more food than you had ever seen or so you thought. Through out the day you were allowed to have soda or juice, potato chips and pretty much whatever you wanted. Hot dogs and hamburgers were being grilled nearly constantly for most of the day. You’d get a burger and you’d go run off and chase that little girl from down the street until you were both were laughing so hard that you couldn’t run anymore.
As we got older and we learned the true meaning for having the day off from school we might have spent a little more time listening to the bands play maybe we stood a little straighter when the veterans groups would march by and there is a chance that we listened a bit closer to the speeches that inevitably followed the parades.
I don’t think that there is anyone in this country that can say that they don’t know anyone that has been in the military. It may have been a distant cousin, an uncle, father, the neighbor, or that friend of the family that everyone thinks is a bit strange. I have met men and women that have spent their lives in the military and those that have spent just a few years there. I have met those that have been to war and those that have not those that were wounded and those that were not. At the same time I don’t know anyone personally that has been killed in the service of this country. Yet I know that many men and women have died for the cause of freedom over the two hundred and so odd years that this country has existed and some of them were my ancestors and they too go back the two hundred and so odd years that this country has existed.
From day one there have been people who have put their lives on the line for their country, many have done so with little or no regard to themselves. It was a pursuit something larger than they were; for a better life, to begin a new life, to protect those that couldn’t protect themselves, to free a city or country or region from tyrannical leadership. For this country it was a beginning, it was for the making of a new country and freedom from what they believed was an oppressive government. I don’t plan on giving a history lesson here because I am sure that everyone has a pretty good idea of what came next.
This day is the day that we spend remembering them, honoring them, with parades and speeches. It is a day that transcends politics no matter why a war was fought. The belief that the men and women that died giving us freedom, helping others get their freedom, protecting our freedom or protecting the freedom of others should have their own day for us to remember that their sacrifice is so much greater than just one person or one war. We can spend our lives shouting at our government for what it does or does not do, we can spend our lives hating the government and everything it stands for. We can even vote to over turn our government by electing those that do not believe in what this country has stood for. There are those that work our constitution against us those that believe that if you are a few and you speak loud enough or threaten long enough that you get you way over those of the many. I care not where these people stand I care that they do not get their way for this country is where I call home and while it may not be the perfect country I can think of few other places that are like here. While there are other democracies across this little blue planet there are few places that have as many opportunities as there are here. Not many places can you begin with little and end with everything that you ever dreamed and more. Then again not all of us can do this, but that is not the point, we all have this chance okay, so there’s my one outrage I promise.
I wish I could say that I remembered just how many Memorial Day parades that I have been in and how many of the speeches I have listen to afterward. I have heard this following poem read many times over the years and many times have I sat teary eyed at the end. Now I want to share it here with all of you one more time, as no matter how many years I spend trying, perhaps I will never get it this good and I hope that you all will forgive me for borrowing another authors words…
In Flanders Field
By: John Mc Crea
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Out of respect, we should all take at least a good 5 minutes out of our day to remember all those that gave up their lives for the sake of ours. They were fighting for a future that perhaps would never come during their time, but they did it anyways, for us. We owe it to them today to remember, and we should never forget those that gave the ultimate sacrifice during those years…….
The history of so many countries are built on those that have laid down their lives for something that they believed in something that was larger than themselves and yet what can be said about this holiday that has not been said in thousands of cemeteries, village squares, city parks, or silently beside the grave of a fallen soldier. How much more feeling can I make you see, that you don’t already know and feel? Can I sit you down for these short pages and hope to turn a person from indifference to a heart felt ‘thank you for giving your life so that I may live in freedom’? Is it up to me to point out that when men and women answer a call greater than they are that we should embrace them for their answer? I sit and listen to those that say they see no need for a military in this day and age, and I wonder just where they think that this country and others would be if it were not for a military? Even God knows that we can pound our swords into plows every day, but there will always come a time when we will need to melt down the plows and make more swords.
So to you my friends and family and family of friends, get out there and sit on the sidewalks of America. Watch the parade as it passes by, salute the flag, watch the men and women in uniform and try to see past them to those that we can no longer see. The proud men and women that have died in the service of their country. Oh, you can see them in your mind as the parade goes by if you look close enough, you can even see their smiles as they watch us remembering them. And if you happen to be standing in a cemetery listening to some politician making a speech about what this day is about; take a look around. You just might see the sons and daughters, or the wives and husbands or the mother and fathers of those that have recently added their names to this day, embrace them and thank them. If you have a moment learn something about them so that you too can carry their memory and let them live on. When the parades and speeches are over and the parade flags have all been rolled up and put away, remember to keep them in your heart. Later as you sit and watch your family be thankful of the ultimate sacrifices that were offered up so that you can live as you do. Remember to fill up your glass with your choice of beverage and offer up a toast, be it silent and only in your mind or out loud for all to hear and share, for those men and women that gave their lives for something bigger than themselves. Bless them all for they are the price that was paid for freedom.