Monday, May 26, 2008
Memorial Day celebrations. Parades, grilling, hot dogs, ice cream, water balloons.
How about a somber (yet uplifting) ceremony to honor the war dead? That's how we spent the early part of our day today, and I hope to do it every year from now on. I wish we'd started sooner.
Looking for a meaningful way to spend the day, we came across the ceremony at Washington Crossing Historic Park. Yes, the place General Washington crossed the Delaware River. It is so close to home; I don't know why we hadn't gone before. The park is large and widespread; the ceremony was held at the site of 23 gravestones, commemorating soldiers, mostly unknown, buried in the area.
The ceremony began with a procession of soldiers, from Revolution reenactors all the way to Iraq vets. Everyone up and singing the National Anthem. I always cry while hearing or singing that song. I wonder sometimes: is the US really the home of the brave anymore? How long will this be the land of the free? Some speakers, then a surprise visit from a redcoat followed by a rebuke from a colonel in Washington's army. Then Washington himself. That was fun.
Then came the somber part. Placing of wreaths by 3 "Gold Star" families and the widow of one of the pilots of Flight 93 (Shanksville is only a couple hundred miles from here). Then placing of flags along the line of headstones, commemorating people (Washington himself, other Revolutionary heroes) and all the wars this nation has participated in. Couple of gun salutes (our dog did not like that).
It was a long ceremony, and sometimes boring for the kids. There weren't many other kids there, which bothered me. OK, it made me a little angry. It shouldn't, but it did, I confess. No teens. Mostly middle-aged people, a few 30-ish-looking couples, a few with kids. Why aren't more people bringing their kids to these free, close to home events? Who knows, maybe last year it was crawling with kids. Maybe this year was an aberration. I doubt it, though. Kids don't want to sit through boring ceremonies. My kids didn't, really. But they did it, and even if they are not glad they did, I am. They might not care now about seeing those mothers and widows placing those wreaths, but someday they may remember. But if only old people come to these kinds of ceremonies, who's going to come when they're (we're) all gone? Will there be anyone who cares?
One of the speakers quoted a few lines from the poem It is the Soldier:
It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
©Copyright 1970-2005 by Charles Michael Province
Whatever your opinion on the US Armed Forces, the current administration, and this current war, if you are an American you need to study your American history and understand how you came to have the freedom you take for granted. You need to know what's going on in other countries that don't have the freedoms we have. If you think the country is on the wrong track, you need to figure out what you can do to get it back on the right one. That includes voting in November - maybe choosing the least objectionable candidate, but the one who you believe will be the best. And you need to think about the people who came before you and made it possible for you to enjoy your grilled steak in peace today.
And before next Memorial Day, look for commemorative events in your area. Then go, and take your kids. We're on the verge of forgetting, and we can't. I looked General George Washington in the eye today; I don't want to disappoint him.