If you’re anything like me, the older you become the more you change relative to perspective. And I make no apology for it…more need to speak in plain terms on the ultimate cost of being an American.
Another Memorial Day!
I confess it’s always been one of my favorite holiday memories to write about, and the reason is because it’s generational for me. You see, I’m old enough to remember when my grandmother called it “Decoration Day”, the day when you went to the cemetery and put flowers on the graves of loved ones and fallen servicemen in the forenoon…and then went home for a lunch of fried chicken and mustard potato salad.
Peonies, gladiolas, and dahlias were her flowers of choice, home-grown, of course. Every spring she’d make the trip to the tiny Methodist cemetery in Getaway, Ohio to decorate the graves of her parents and her uncle, Joshua Kite, a Civil War vet who survived the War by 72 years and died in 1937. Very lucid still at age 97, “Uncle Josh” delighted in telling my mother and her two brothers stories of having been at 2nd Manassas and Antietam…and of walking home from southern Virginia when his enlistment was up in the summer of 1864.
In a different cemetery near Chesapeake Grandma would point out the grave of “Mont” Moore, an old man from the community who had died in the Spanish-American War. I have no idea who he was, or the connection with my family, but the story was told every year of how he was brought back from parts unknown to Chesapeake – way back then – for burial.
There were also stories of veterans from the other wars…World War I, World War II, Korea, etc. I still remember them, but for the life of me I can’t connect the dots anymore. It’s been 50 years.
These are all good memories, somehow, but more solemn now as my perspective on service to country and the ultimate sacrifice has changed in those 50 years. And let me share this with you. I don’t look forward so much to Memorial Day anymore. Too many years, too many wars, and so many empty chairs at the table to reflect upon; I don’t think of it as much a “holiday” now, of fresh-cut flowers and a picnic lunch.
Now I think about Memorial Day with a bit of anger and outrage for the fact of an entitled culture and societal indifference, and failure to appreciate the sacrifice of those that Lincoln once spoke about, those that gave the last full measure of devotion to country, and duty. I’m not ashamed to say I bristle at the thought of those who don’t care as long as they get their check, their health care supplement…their “benefits”. America is a great country, ain’t it?
Years ago when I was still involved with minor league baseball I was in Savannah, Georgia one spring for Memorial Day. Like many towns there was a grand parade and celebration near an old downtown cemetery that morning and it was captivating to see a re-enactor Civil War band perform for the ceremonies honoring Confederate veterans laid to rest in one section of the cemetery. It was one of those Daughters of The Confederacy events, I guess, and impressive for the respect shown for those honored 110 years after the fact of dying for even a lost cause. There was respect. There was tribute. You could have heard a pin drop. And there was an American flag. The band may have played “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, but they flew the stars and stripes, and with honor.
Honor, commitment, and loyalty; and the respect shown by those who could not remember, of course, but obliged by history just the same.
I wish we could truly say the same in this day. My heart broke when I reread Tom Archdeacon’s story the other day about Piqua’s Sam Pearson, who died in Iraq six years ago; and the thought of how Carolyn and Randy, his parents, got the news. How many times since the Civil War has that very event been carried out over the decades and years? How many times has the debt been paid; and how many more times in the future?
And tell me. Am I the only one who thinks about the “cost” while we continue to run the debt even higher? Promising more to those who don’t understand the concept of human debits and credits – what seems a voting majority callously concerned with their own personal benefits? Tell me…what honor can be found in that?
Before I close I’ll share some thoughts of Joshua Kite, the subject in many family stories and scribbles since the day he died in August of 1937. Mr. Kite was a very well read man, who subscribed to the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper, among others, and he spent his latter days reflecting upon the policies of the day that even then he questioned as to how they threatened the solvency of the nation.
“Old men’s wars and young men’s fight”, he’d say about pressure on America to become engaged with the wars in Europe.
“Every one of them deserves to wash over the hill and drown in the Potomac (Pot-oh-mack),” he’d say of the politicians in Washington. “The only thing they wouldn’t steal is a red-hot stove.” (He borrowed from Abraham Lincoln’s statement about his own cabinet.)
What would he, and others from his generation, say about the debt that we’re amassing now, in terms of lives and diminishing liberty…with diminishing means to pay?
As I say, age brings different perspective to things like Memorial Day. But still, to be naive again, of days of peonies, gladiolas, and dahlias…and a fried chicken lunch. I smile when I think of it.
But most of all, I think of the respect for the debt that someone had to pay – that someone still has to pay!