To the editor:
Memorial Day, says the VA, is a “federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people (some 1 million) who died while serving in the country’s armed services.”
I respect that.
My Memorial Day thoughts and prayers go mostly to my older brother (at the time, 18) who, with all but one of his Marine Reserve rifle squad, was killed by a Chinese or North Korean mortar on Sept. 11, 1951.
Peace talks had been dragging on and troops on both sides had hunkered down to await the outcome. U.S. commanders thought that the battle lines had been too quiet for too long and that the troops were losing their edge, becoming too settled. So they ordered that yet another series of ridges should be captured for the strategic purpose of straightening out the line.
A few years ago I contacted a Korean War veterans website and heard from a Marine who was in the assault. “I was with (your brother) when he died. You shoulda seen his face,” he said.
My brother was returned, of course, in a sealed casket, but I see his face as I knew him, a high school junior and Marine reservist, in every authentic Memorial Day observance.
It has become popular in memorial speeches to call our war dead and our troops “warriors.” Quite naturally, I bristle at the suggestion that my brother and his squad were warriors. Using the term “warriors” seems to me to presume a warrior culture that spawns little warriors; mothers proud of stoic baby ninjas. Most assuredly that was not the culture that gave us the unsurpassable “citizen-soldiers” of World War I and II, and the Korean War. A citizen-soldier is one who sets aside his peaceful pursuits to do what needs to be done. A warrior is one who subscribes to war, who endorses war. Not someone I want at my next barbecue.
So marchers, speechmakers, pontificators, letter-to-the-editor writers, please don’t let us be misled by what you say as to which holiday you are celebrating.
Memorial Day is not Veterans Day, which is in the fall. In truth, if there is an active component in memorializing our war dead, it should be promoting ways to slow the production of dead and wounded, not recruiting more of them. Honor the veterans, especially the combat veterans, on Veterans Day. And every day. I know I do. There is not a specific national holiday to honor Purple Heart recipients, but there should be.
Memorial Day is not Independence Day, which happens in July. Probably, if there is a feast of martial ardor, now that VE- and VJ-Day have fallen by the wayside, the Fourth is it. I promise to get out one of my autoloader rifles and fire a volley in salute. Though what I most value is the sense of community among the crowds out to watch fireworks.
Official flag etiquette for Memorial Day suggests an appropriate rhythm of celebration:
Flag is raised high at dawn, then promptly lowered to half-mast, where it remains until noon mourning the war dead. I suggest visiting the cemeteries in the morning hours to honor the war dead and ponder the cost of war.
Flag is once again raised high as we commit to making certain that the deaths of our war dead were not in vain. Time to raise a glass in celebration of the many blessings that we as Americans enjoy and to fortify our spirits with family and friends for the challenges to liberty and justice for all that lie ahead.
Happy Memorial Day,