The following is a blog entry I wrote for Chronicles of Dissent for Memorial Day 2006:
I think somewhere along the line, the meaning of Memorial Day must have changed, because why else would Colin Powell be talking about remembering those who are currently serving in the war? The original meaning of Memorial Day –and the meaning I grew up with — was to remember and honor those who gave their lives serving their country.
As a child, I’d always see what appeared to be very old men out in front of the stores, giving out artificial little red poppies that we’d wear to remember and honor the fallen.
Most of those old men have long since passed on. Many of them were proud members of the VFW, like my two neighbors across the street. Every morning John would raise the flag on a flagpole he had in front of his house. And every Veteran’s Day, he and Joe would don their caps and march proudly in the local parade. Joe and John are both gone now, dying within a year of each other. They were good neighbors and good men.
So I’m sitting here, thinking about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But I’m also remembering my dad who served in the “War to End All Wars,” my cousin-in-law who survived Pork Chop Hill in Korea, a former patient who had been a physician and part of the liberation forces for the concentration camps, and my friend’s father. They survived their wars, but the wars changed each of them in perceptible ways.
Like a lot of men in their generation, my dad and my friend’s dad never talked much about the war. Occasionally my father would tell me some funny stories and talk a bit about his work analyzing the bombs and weaponry that were delivered to him behind the lines. But that was it. The war was not a topic he wanted to discuss or ever raised. And just like he didn’t talk much about the war, neither did my friend’s father. It was only after his death that my friend found the papers showing how he had been shot down behind enemy lines in 1944 and had been a POW for quite a while in Stalag Luft I.
There was no old man selling red poppies outside the supermarket this morning, and we’re the only house on our block that has an American flag flying today. I don’t even know if school children still get red poppies to remember. I hope they do. Whether or not you agree with a war, those who gave their lives in service of their country deserve some recognition and respect.