Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day

The United States Memorial Day (currently set to be the last Monday of May) began in 1865 through one town's desire to honor those who had been killed in the Civil War. Several towns claim they were the first ones, which matters to them; but to the rest of us, the significant thing is it arose from grassroots to eventually be officially declared a United States holiday.

By the time I came along it was more a three-day week-end, family picnics, start of camping season; and if you could fit it in, a time to head up to the cemetery with bouquets of flowers to tidy up your family's gravestones from the winter's invasion of grass and moss.

In our case, all of our parents are buried in a country cemetery a mile or so from our farm on a hill with tall trees surrounding the graveyard. We will drive up the gravel road to there sometime over this week-end. Many of the headstones will have bouquets beside them-- some real flowers and some plastic. After putting flowers by our own family, I will stop by other markers to spend a few moments remembering those I knew and in some cases recalling when they died.

The most meaningful Memorial Day for me was several years ago in Missoula, Montana. It was our first morning there on a vacation, with no plan to do other than walk along the Clark Fork River, which runs through downtown Missoula, when we saw people gathering on the bridge above us. The uniforms on some of the people told us it was some kind of Memorial Day event, and we walked up the steps to join the small group.

Waiting, the atmosphere of the mist in the air, the mountains in the distance all around the city, and the quiet gathering of the aging soldiers it would have been impossible to not feel a stirring deep inside. The ones there that day had come in two groups. One was made up of old veterans in their stiffly pressed uniforms and proud demeanor, very like my deceased father-in-law; the other was Vietnam era veterans who had come in on motorcycles with long hair, scarves, tattoos and an in-your-face attitude, which was no less proud, and very like my brother.

The two didn't exactly blend together, but they did stand side by side under the flag for which they had all served as words were said, songs sung and a trumpet played. It was extremely moving, and I felt tears on my cheeks . An elderly couple walked to the railing and the wife threw a wreath into the river swollen by snow melt. It was quickly carried out of sight.

A wreath thrown into a river, for various purposes, has also been a pagan ritual which to me gave the doing of it added meaning. So many things come from ancient roots and we never know the why. It just seems right (like decorating graves which goes back to Greek and Roman traditions and probably back farther than that). The wreath that morning floating away was a primitive, human way to beautifully express loss and sacrifice-- a symbol for all who prematurely gave up their lives for a cause they believed in or sometimes simply because they were caught up in something from which honor would not let them walk away.

As a country we should never forget those who have given everything for their country. We should do whatever we can to make their sacrifice not be in vain. One way to do this is to honor those currently fighting as well as making sure they have the best equipment we know to provide. I think it behooves us to be sure our government fulfills its promises to all living veterans. Budgets should not be cut at the expense of the soldiers who fought and are fighting. For us, as a nation, that is also an issue of honor.

Finally for anyone with cable TV and an interest in history, check out History Channel Monday night for a program on George Washington. Sounded well worth viewing as he was instrumental in much of what this country came to be. From what I have read, a major factor in why we have a presidency not a monarchy. We always think only one man can't make a difference-- but some can.

(The photo is of our flag which we frequently fly as a symbol of our pride in this nation where we feel blessed to live.)


BobW said...

It's been said that it all began in a town down south, on a day when some ladies went to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. Some had been their sons, brothers, husbands, sweethearts.

Looking at the bare Yankee headstones, they reflected: They were our enemies, but they, too, have loved ones, who can't be here.

At some places out on the prairies and plains, there will be those who see to it that the graves of WW2 German POWs are not forgotten.

It's things like this we'll do well to remember as the volleys sound, the bugle plays.

Dick said...

Thank you for this post. We do need to keep the feet of those in government to the fire to make sure promises made are kept.

It is interesting how many of the things we accept as being part of our Christian background really comes from a blend of the ancient with Christianity. Just last fall I learned how the use of pumpkins as jack-o-lanterns came to be used in our country. I am sure there are many more that I still have to learn about.

Winston said...

Your childhood memories of Memorial Day parallel mine, even though we grew up on opposite ends of the country.

I recently read something about Washington, and how he rejected what his cronies wanted, which was to annoint him king. There, my friend, was a man of unmatched character. What would be the reaction today? Most different I think.

Parapluie said...

Your words and picture are beautiful. I love the way the wind plays on the stripes and star filled blue. Coud there be some little recognized symbolism intended by Betsy Ross? The winds adverse to a resting flag sets the stripes to dancing?

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Thanks for sharing this, Rain. My own parents and grandparents are buried in the L.A. area and I do visit occasionally. Whenever I travel, however, I visit cemeteries and photograph tombstones and headstones. My own ancestors in the U.S. are primarily buried I have asked my children to bury me in a regular Catholic cemetery, even though they aren't ones to visit cemeteries. And thanks for reminding us to honor out current military, too--and that we do owe them good equipment--and respect. VietNam was such a fiasco and those poor vets paid a high price for an unpopular war. Does that mean I approve the current war. No. But I do support our troops.

Rain said...

I have chosen to be cremated with nothing buried in the ground. I haven't yet decided where I'd like the ashes strewn and really don't care a lot-- although maybe by the time that comes around, there will be an obvious place to me. The thought of my body being in the ground was always unappealing to me and then I realized I had an option. It was what our parents wanted though and I think we should honor the desires of family in such.

robin andrea said...

Rain-- This is such a moving and beautiful post. Thank you for remembering the soldiers today, the living and the dead.

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