I well remember the Memorial Day (we called it Decoration Day back then) rituals of the small town in which I grew up. An assembly of the whole community at the park near the auditorium began the day. With the old howitzer on the pedestal, the school band assembled to play the National Anthem (I was even enlisted to direct one year), and the rows upon rows of white crosses decorated with American flags...
I still remember my Dad in his army hat orchestrating much of the action. And the kids. Children upon children lined up to carry each a cross to every veteran's grave in the cemeteries of the community. It was a big deal... The white crosses represented the grandfathers, fathers, and sons of this small town on the Nebraska prairie. They would not be forgotten and they were remembered -- all together at least one day a year.
The final noble act was the playing of taps -- usually the best trumpeter in the band. In the solemn silence of that moment, aged vets still living, some squeezed into their old service uniforms, some younger veterans of a war no one seemed to remember and a few from the first great war, all at the same time raised a crooked, broken, wrinkled, wounded, young and straight hand in salute. Those who lived and died for the cause of our nation did not live in vain or die in vain.
I remember the tears flowing down cheeks of men and women, the aged and the children. I remember the jerk of my neck to each volley of the gun salute. I remember running over to where these men stood and shot their weapons -- to pick up the spent brass shells. Not in vain did they live or fight or die... not in vain... In towns across America the old ritual of Memorial Day took place. The VFW and American Legion saw to it. So did the people whose grandfathers, fathers, and sons left waving their hands only to return in boxes covered with flags. Not in vain, no sir, they did not die in vain...
These were men of a great generation willing to make sacrifice before claiming right or privilege. When my father-in-law died, I watched as they slowly made their way down the aisle to the casket. For many, the walk was terribly difficult. They paused before the casket, made a deliberate and profound salute to the flag draped body, and turned to make way for those to come. We can learn much from this generation and from those of every generation who gave themselves to death on battlefields far and forgotten that we might remember. Another day will come to honor those who survived the rigors of war and who carry in their bodies and minds the wounds of battle but today we remember the dead, the rows of tombstones that signified their service, their sacrifice, and their salute to liberty.
Today I thought of it all and tears filled my eyes... a
part of me wanted to be back there where, now sixty years ago, led by my Dad and
people like him, we made sure that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our liberty were not forgotten. We were there to remember them with white crosses, solemn salutes, cracks
of rifles, and the sad but noble strains of Taps... remembering and
never forgetting the men (and women) who served our nation by making the
greatest of sacrifices... for you... for me...