I grew up in small town Kentucky where the solemnity and purpose of Memorial Day was always honored. I’m old enough to remember it being called “Decoration Day” and remember placing the flags at the cemetery.
The cemetery in my hometown is called Battle Grove as it was the site of a battle between John Hunt Morgan’s raiders and Union troops. The top of the hill, where the last battle was fought became the basis of the cemetery (hence the name “Battle Grove.”) There is a monument for the battle on top of the hill where the cemetery is located.
While the traditional date for Memorial Day/Decoration Day was May 30, when I was a child, we also “celebrated” the Confederate Memorial Day which was observed in Kentucky on June 3. My great-grandfather had served in Co A, 1st Kentucky Cavalry, CSA so my grandmother was a “Daughter of the Confederacy” and we would place flags around a Confederate Memorial in the cemetery as well as for the mostly unknown confederate soldiers who were buried there.
During Memorial Day observations, I also spent a lot of time selling VFW Buddy Poppies. My father was active in the VFW so the Buddy Poppies were always around.
My family has been fortunate. I do not know all the members of the family who have served over the years. I know I had at least a couple of ancestors in the Revolutionary War, my great-grandfather in the Confederate Army, my father in WWII in an Army Air Corps Weather Squadron. My father’s older brother had been a Marine during WWI and survived a mustard gas attack though that may have contributed to his death while Dad was overseas during WWII. My oldest first cousin served over 20 years in the Navy. One of his sons was a marine. Another 1st cousin from Dad’s side of the family served in the Navy as did my first cousin Mary from Mom’s side of the family. My brother and I both served in the USAF and he wound up getting a commission through the Air Guard, transferred to the Army Reserve and retired a few years ago as a Lt Col. Through all the years and service by my family members, as far as I know, only my great Uncle Will Collier (my mother’s uncle) died during war time (Spanish-American War) and he was one of the thousands in that war who died from disease rather than in combat.
I am not going to get into the rightness or wrongness of the various wars. The level of service performed by members of my family over the years have not been in national leadership roles. I guess some people would ID us as members of the “sheeple,” taking the words and actions of leaders at face value. There may be an element of truth in this but it does not lessen the service performed and make it dishonorable. The dishonor from the actions leading up to a war, if any, were performed by those leaders who lead the country. And yes, there are even a few “honorable” wars. Like the US Civil War. While I understand some of the motives for my great-grandfather to serve, from the vantage of over 150 years later, he and I would be on opposite sides of the war.
So today, please honor the sacrifice made by those who have died during these wars. Do not judge their sacrifices as anything more than men and women serving their country. Whether in Flanders Fields, Arlington or other national cemeteries around the US or world, or all the small town cemeteries around the country, all that most of those who died ever wanted was to live a life. One of the sayings used sometimes by veterans is to state that:
A veteran — whether active duty, retired, National Guard or reserve — is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to and including my life.”
The people who are honored today, Memorial Day, are those who had that blank check cashed.
And because I can:
Photo from Chris Yunker licensed under Creative Commons