When I was a boy growing up in Sacramento Grandmother didn’t call it Memorial Day. She always referred to the holiday at the end of May by its older name, Decoration Day. It was the day we went to put flowers on my mother’s grave.
A few years later it also became the day we put flowers on her husband’s grave. I was raised to think of that day as a time to remember and cherish the memories of all my dead, not just those who had died in armed conflict. Maybe that was because the veterans in my family had served in the Great War, as they called the First World War before it became necessary to number them.
No one celebrated that war the way they did the sequel. The price was far too dear. Some countries lost as much as 10% of their total male population. My great-uncle Oscar threw his medals over the side of the ship on the way home. Grandfather served at home because he was a clergyman who spoke German. He would stand between the mob of “patriots” and the German immigrants and speak about Jesus until the hot blood cooled. Great-uncle Sigmund had the “shell shock.” I was told not to make loud sudden noises around him.
Decoration Day was for all the dead because all are equal in the grave. There are no heroes, only victims there. It was on Veteran’s Day that we honored the soldier…when we might still do him some good.
Now I am older and Grandmother rests beside her husband. Memorial day is the day when the politicians use the dead of the old wars to heat the blood as they explain why we must fight the next one against the enemy du jour. The television is a veritable orgy of war movies that weekend. Patriotic slogans abound on social media.
I wonder how many who post “The land of the free because of the brave” on facebook stop to put a fiver in the homeless vet’s cup.
We must honor while we can
The vertical man
Though we value none
But the horizontal one.
Be seeing you.