Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day - in remembrance

Memorial Day is just another holiday to most of us who have never had to say goodbye to a father, son or brother as he was deployed in his nation's service. Those of us who never had a gravesite to visit, or lay flowers upon, have a vague sense of the meaning of the day, but ultimately its importance is that of every three-day weekend. The day means cookouts and family fun, or an extra day to relax or do chores. I confess that, over the years, this attitude has crept in upon me as well. Strangely, I was more aware of the day when I was young.

Every Memorial Day was parade day in my little hometown. My friends and I would walk or ride our bikes downtown to watch the mix of veterans, policemen, firemen, boy and girl scouts and nearly anyone in uniform march to the often painful insistence of the high school marching band. There were baton twirlers and flag bearers, all of whom practiced throughout the school year for this, their shining moment in the sun.

A punctuating moment in each parade was when the members of the Historical Society, dressed in colonial garb, fired a 21-gun salute with their muskets in the town center by the American flag. A fife and drum accompanied their solemn marching, and though they were a rag-tag bunch, the effect was profound.

The final destination for the parade was the Town Hall, where the marchers joined the spectators and one audience was formed as the names of hometown heroes who had fallen was read. The brave men who were lost in battle, and the old men who, having returned from war, used to march in the parade. Men who, just the year before, stood here among us, silently honoring their comrades and brothers, men whose names were now on that same list.

Our hometown parade was a small and amateurish affair, but its purpose shone through as brilliantly as the sun striking the gleam of those brass band instruments. It taught me how to value life and freedom. It taught me how to mourn those I did not know, simply because their lives were worthy and their absence worthy of note.

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