Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial day, 2011

I wonder how the observance of Memorial Day has changed over the years. I don't really have a good "handle" on it, because my main early memories of it were as a child growing up in a relatively-small and history-obsessed town. We had parades (One year, I think it must have been the Bicentennial year, my Brownie troop got to march in the parade. I remember it though I would have only been 7 or so. We wore our uniforms, most of us got to carry small flags, and, as part of the traditional flag etiquette (or at least, that's what the troop leader told us), we needed to get white gloves to wear. I still remember going to the little local department store - yes, such things still existed when I was a kid - with my mom and buying a pair. And I remember marching with all the veterans - mostly WWII veterans, who would have been in their 40s or 50s at that point but also a few WWI veterans who were still healthy enough to march.)

Where I live now - and where I lived before this - we are larger and perhaps not as in tune with our history (and where I lived before this, there was a largish contingent who would have been actively embarrassed at something they perceived as "glorifying the military."). But there are still parades in some of the smaller towns.

Perhaps the day changes as we cycle through the generations. The WWI vets have left us (Frank Buckles, the last U.S. Doughboy, passed recently). The WWII vets are rapidly leaving us. And I think my generation and the younger generations, war and soldiery means something different. We don't quite have the same "shared sacrifice" thoughts that people who lived through WWII had (My parents, who were small children during that time, remember some of the things - the rationing, doing things like collecting scrap metal. They don't remember it as being onerous; it was just something you did). And maybe our attitudes are different, I don't know. Mostly what I have read about WWII is that once we got involved, people were in support of it - of course, that could be a history-is-written-by-the-victors thing (and I have read of protests before we entered WWI; the idea that we didn't need to be involved in a European war).

I do think there's still a hearty respect, at least here in the heartland, for the men and women who choose to serve. And there's a memory of those who didn't come back.

I don't know - is our military force smaller than it was in WWII? As a proportion of the population? Someone I know who served as a hospital chaplain a dozen or so years back said that nearly all of the men of that age group he encountered in the hospital had served in some capacity during WWII. Not all of them were eager to talk about it - and in fact, many of them were NOT eager, he said some of them still felt bad about the buddies that they left "over there." (Regardless of whether "over there" was a beach in France, or an island in the Pacific)

I've had a few former-military students, including a few (in my early days of teaching) who served in the first Gulf war. They didn't talk much about it. (I did once have a man say, when he came to apologize to me - and yes, some of my students do apologize when they earn a poor grade - that he was more disappointed than upset about the D he earned on his exam, but he wasn't going to dwell on it, because "once you've had people shooting at you, earning a D doesn't feel like the end of the world any more.")

It seems to me that in the past we downplayed a lot of the difficulties that those who came home - I mean, the emotional difficulties, the challenges of re-adjusting to civilian life - and we're just now beginning to realize and, hopefully, get help for the ones who need it.

This day I don't just think of the men and women who gave their lives overseas; I also think of their families - what used to be called the "Gold Star Mothers" and the others who watched and prayed and hoped and waited and then ultimately received the devastating news.

A thanks to all who served and are serving, and may we never forget that in order to have our liberties, we must be willing to defend them.

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