Monday, May 31, 2010

Today is Memorial Day

In the Charles Causley poem Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, turned into sonic form by Natalie Merchant, a young boy asks, "Sailor O sailor will you bring me if I give you my penny and my apricot tree." The sailor promises to bring presents from over the sea. Three long summer go by, the ship returns, without the sailor. His fate is implied.

While walking into the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City on Friday, I passed a couple of sailors in town for Fleet Week, and was striken by how young they looked. I thought of Owen Meany's reflection in John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" that children fight the wars.

This Memorial Day, I'm thinking a lot about the Causley poem, as well the John Irving novel, with its reflections on Vietnam. I'm not thinking about going to the mall. For retailers and for some consumers, it's just another sale.

Consider these words from Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander-In-Chief Thomas Tradewell, Sr.:

"Do most non-veterans really recognize the importance of the day honoring their fellow Americans killed in war?

Judging from what Memorial Day has become—simply another day off from work—the answer is a resounding no. Perhaps a reminder is due, then. And it is the duty of each and every veteran to relay the message.

Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America's collective consciousness demands that all citizens recall and be aware of the deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime.

Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That's why they are all collectively remembered on one special day."

Read the full passage.

In my car hangs a red poppy which I received from a veteran after making a donation, but never knew its meaning, so decided to look it up. Red poppies became associated with the war after the publication of the poem "In Flander's Field," by Col. John McCrae of Canada. Here is that poem.

In Flander's Field

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.

Read more about the VFW Buddy Poppies, which continue to be assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals.

When you see a veteran, say these simple words, "thank you for your service." Say a silent prayer today for those who cannot hear those words.


ConsciouslyFrugal said...

Thank you for this. My family has a long history in the military and I'm always a bit surprised how people think of it as "BBQ Day."

The LA Times has a project that I'm so grateful for, although it's absolutely heartbreaking. They've created a list of the more than 500 people who have died in our current wars. Each person has a quote from a family member or friend:

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

You're welcome, and thank you to your family for their service to our country. And thank you for sharing that link. I go back to that quote from Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter, "There is no death in remembrance." It is so important to remember.

Partly, I think Americans are so over-worked, and get so little vacation time, that any long weekend is precious. But even if the holiday fell in mid-winter, I don't think we would give it its justice.