When I was a kid, Memorial Day was "Decoration Day" and we all trooped over to the cemetery where our family members, deceased, had been layed to rest. I remember that we always took peonys to put on the graves of so many people that I had no memories of. Grandpa Christensen died before I was born. My own father's sister had died as a child about 8 years old of diphtheria, a disease no one even knows about any more. Anyway, we were told to be reverent and to honor these relatives we had not known.
Also present in the cemetery were numerous American flags (48 star variety) and none of us kids knew why they were there. Some years later, Decoration Day became Memorial Day. We still went to the cemetery and placed flowers wherever a family member or dear friend was buried.
I didn't go to another cemetery for many years. I was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force and either overseas or many miles away when my remaining grandmothers passed away, actually in Southeast Asia when Grandma Christensen passed on.
I attended a few military ceremonies over the years. Most involved military honors and, since most of us were aviators, the mandatory "fly over." These were sad occasions but we all kept "stiff upper lips."
After I retired from the service, we lived in Folsom, CA where I was active in the local Chamber of Commerce. I was asked to head an effort to construct an appropriate military memorial in the city park. I got some of my friends together and, as a committee, we purchased a bronze plaque with the names of the young men of Folsom who had given their all in the various wars. My daughter composed a poem which was read at the dedication and we felt we had done something good.
Fast forward a few decades and we now live in Lincoln, CA. I am active in two veterans organizations and represent same on the Placer County Veterans Advisory Board. I and others assist veterans in filing for benefits and such. We also help those with needs for transportation and so forth. The veterans groups were tasked to construct appropriate memorials for each of the four cemeteries in the area and I was asked to assist. We took about two years to design and acquire the four memorials which were installed a couple of weeks back. We dedicated the one in the old city cemetery today, Memorial Day 2011.
I've done enough memorial construction. I routinely think about the hundreds of thousands of young American men and women who will never have the opportunity to become husbands and wives, to hold their children, to enjoy their parents as seniors and, yes, to become senior citizens themselves.
And for what? World War II was at least a response to an attempt to control the whole world and to eliminate our way of life. Since then, the goals of war, whatever they were, resulted in nothing more than continued hostilities. In Korea, we fought to a standoff, the results of which have never changed. In Vietnam, we continued to pour young people into that terrible mill which disgorged only wounded, whether on stretchers or walking. The result was an abandonment or a tacit surrender. Fifty-thousand young people who will never come home. And we veterans took the blame from a generation of coddled and overfed kids who burned flags and called us baby killers. We all discovered that, contrary to public opinion, soldiers did their duty not to Mom, country and apple pie, but to help their buddies, their brothers in arms.
Finally, we have the morass of southwest Asia. Sounds a lot like southeast Asia, doesn't it? Thousands of our best and brightest fighting other guerilla wars in a far off place. Dying in the company of men and women like themselves. The best and the brightest.
I will never build another memorial.