Memorializing

A memorial in Lyons, N.Y. Photo by Steve Martaindale

When is Memorial Day in the United States?

Blindside a Baby Boomer with that question and you might initially get the answer May 30. That’s because, until near the end of the Vietnam War, such was the case. Until it was moved to the last Monday in May.

Why the move? Well, a glance at your local grocery store ads this week might give a clue. I can almost guarantee they will feature hot dogs, chips, charcoal briquets and a wide variety of drinks. And you are familiar with the thought the Memorial Day holiday weekend is the kickoff of summer.

Not everyone loves the idea of making a party weekend out of a day designated to honor … honor whom, exactly?

That’s another question that will trip up some people. In this case, I’m guessing, it might more likely be younger Americans.

“Memorial Day honors our veterans!” they might say. Many folks believe so, or at least they treat it as such.

No, Memorial Day has a distinct purpose, as is described in President Joe Biden’s proclamation issued Friday:

“On Memorial Day, we honor and reflect upon the courage, integrity, and selfless dedication of the members of our Armed Forces who have made the greatest sacrifice in service to our Nation.”

Truly recognizing that “greatest sacrifice” means death and understanding that nobody being honored on Memorial Day is able to share in a cookout or a softball game … or a hug or a laugh … certainly should put a damper on festivities.

According to The HISTORY Channel, until his death in 2012, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii took up the cause of veterans groups opposing the last Monday date, introducing legislation at the beginning of every congressional term for more than 20 years. It shouldn’t surprise anyone moneymaking endeavors win out.

If not opening the community swimming pool and grilling meat byproducts, what is the best thing we could do to honor those who have been lost to war?

Maybe …

Maybe try a lot harder to avoid war.

‘No more wars’

When my wife and I walked the Erie Canal Trailway in 2016, we took off on Memorial Day, which happened to be May 30 that year. All along our route, we saw memorials and monuments to war and its victims, dating back to the American Revolution. We were in Herkimer, N.Y., and walked downtown for a good, old-fashioned parade and speeches.

The highlight was a few words offered by Annemarie Hansel, age 96, who served as a WAVE during World War II.

The first of what she said I didn’t pick up on, but she spoke loudly and clearly with her parting remarks: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”

Working in the Hospital Corps for the Navy, I’m left to assume she had seen enough of the results of war.

What is it good for?

That’s a question asked repeatedly in the counterculture hit “War,” written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for the Motown label and ultimately released as a chart-topping single with a powerful performance by Edwin Starr in 1970.

It is not fair to history for me to immediately follow a discussion about World War II with one about Vietnam. War against the Axis Powers and their drive for world domination can hardly be questioned. Vietnam, on the other hand, could not be adequately justified for Americans, who sacrificed at least 58,318 lives. Some 3 million Vietnamese died, two-thirds of them civilians.

But that, I believe, is what drove Annemarie Hansel’s cry for peace. After seeing at least 60 million deaths during World War II, how can civilized nations enter another war?

Absolutely nothing

But Americans don’t have to go far to see the truest horrors of war.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs, 498,332 American military – Union and Confederate – died in the Civil War, eclipsing even the two world wars.

A friend asked me this past winter to read through a book he wrote. It was amazing and, if and when he publishes it, I’ll let you know. He heavily researched the life and times of his wife’s great-uncle, who fought for the U.S. through much of the Civil War, only to die from wounds suffered at Deep Bottom Run.

As I carefully read through the book, the abominations of this war that pitted brother against brother continually screamed out at me.

War … what is it good for?

Memorializing

This Memorial Day, honor those who gave their lives in military service.

It matters not whether the cause of the conflict was justifiable. There is nothing the fighting man or woman can do about that. However, we can and should attempt everything possible to prevent another person dying in war.

That would be the highest honor.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” John Steinbeck in “Once There Was a War”

One thought on “Memorializing”

  1. We have lost too many young people to war! These territorial disputes need to solved with words, not bullets.

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