Friday, May 22, 2009

In Memorium


Here in the United States, a three-day — or with luck a four-day — weekend has begun. Retailers do their best to suture the four days to ideas of backyard barbecues and summer sales, tourist havens prefer that we think of campgrounds or lakeside motels, and gas stations make a big push for long road trips. All of these are packaged, ideally, in a flourish of patriotic music and endless American flags.

It's patriotic to barbecue. It's a display of national pride to drive 500 miles to a campground, or even better, to the weekend cottage. It's the best form of American citizenship to go shopping on Monday and buy Chinese-made plastic chairs for the back yard. (They'll go well with the American flags, also made in China.)

But WB remembers, through all of the consumerist fog, that the "memorial" in Memorial Day looks like this:

Yeah, there are corny emails going around that remind us to remember those who fight for our freedom to buy and cook and camp. But those messages are just more fog, putting emphasis on the "buy cook camp" and smothering the "those" left far behind at the start of the sentence.

Being professional cynics and skeptics, we're not normally ones to get all teary-eyed at cheap and garish sentiment, but when sentiment arrives quietly and with dignity, no problem. We recall attending a crowded church service one Memorial Day a few years back when the minister asked, one American war at a time, for the veterans in the audience to stand. Frail and elderly men stood for World War II, old men for Korea, aging men for Vietnam, more vital men and women for Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq. There was no music, no applause, no flag waving, no pathos-drenched appeals for gratitude. There was only quiet honor and respect. Even the conscientious objectors to Vietnam were called to stand, because they served, too.

So it's really not about barbecues and beaches made possible by those who wore military uniforms. It's about those who wore the uniforms, venerated by a series of days when we put down work to rest and play — and remember.

1 comment:

Some Guy said...

Great post. I drove by Arlington National Cemetery today on the way to the airport. Saw plenty of servicemen and women at the airport in DC. When they boarded our plane, the airline staff asked the veterans to board first.