I’ll never be accused of being the most patriotic of citizens, but I do have a sentimental streak that’s wider than the nearest river. I tend to wax ooey-gooey over the slightest of events anymore…wedding toasts, home makeover shows, song lyrics, etc. Memorial Day for me is just the right mix of patriotism and nostalgia. We take the time to remember those who have fought, ostensibly, for our freedom. And, then we go and have beer and bratwurst to honor their memory. My sister A. and I, until recently, had a fairly significant role in a local memorial service. It was a very low budget affair put on by an American Legion post at a local cemetery. It started back in 1995 when a church friend, himself a veteran of WWII, asked us to sing at this service. And, for 13 years, we marched out among rarely visited graves to belt out the National Anthem and a couple of other hastily chosen hymns that hinted at patriotic fare. I’ll admit that we disliked it. It broke up our day off and there was very little recognition in it. Still, it was a good deed for a friend and how do you say no to someone whose war wounds leave him crippled when your only good excuse is that you’d rather stay in bed?
None of this is to say, however, that I don’t believe fervently that every man and woman killed in combat, be they military or civilian, doesn’t deserve to be recognized, lauded, and memorialized for their efforts. These individuals made a terrible sacrifice for a common cause, in most cases, and it’s the very least that I can do to show some amount of appreciation. To that end, I’d like to close this post with part of a poem by Walt Whitman that bears a little witness to what I can do to honor those who’ve gone before on this Memorial Day.
Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night
Vigil strange, I kept on the field one night;
When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day.
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade — not a tear, not a word,
Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell.