Post #371 Memorial Day Memories

May 22, 2015 at 7:46 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #371 Memorial Day Memories

Let’s see.  Something’s going on this weekend.  It’s a holiday or something.  It’s the first long weekend of summer so it means it’s time to fire up the barbeque, right?  No, that doesn’t sound right.  It’s a beach weekend?  A time to play for three days?  Nope, not quite that.

Oh, right.  It’s Memorial Day.  It’s not National Barbeque Day.  And while I respect and honor all our military personnel, it’s not Veteran’s Day.  Memorial Day, or Day of Remembrance, is set aside to honor those who have fallen in the service of our country.  I have a couple of memories to share.

I was 8 and living in upstate New York, in a small town (I’m sensing a theme here) called Glens Falls.  My dad was a Marine at the time, and he was a recruiter during the Viet Nam conflict.  He got to wear colorful uniforms and be on TV a lot.  He epitomized the ideals of being a Marine.

I was in the cub scouts that year.  I loved being in the cub scouts.  Apart from school, it was the only other structured socialization I had.  It was fun; we learned things; we got snacks.  It was a bright spot on a Saturday that would otherwise be spent watching cartoons.  I seldom missed our meetings.  Then I found out about the parade!

Every year, our little town had a Memorial Day parade.  People stood along the street, waving flags, watching the bands march, the fire engines slowly pulling floats loaded with teenagers looking adult and regal.  I’d stood and watched them go by at least twice that I could remember.  And now, just because I was a cub scout, I would get to march in the parade.  I’d be wearing my black sneakers, blue jeans rolled up halfway to my knees, my blue cub scout shirt with the few merit badges I’d earned, my gold neckerchief rolled just right and held by the gold metal pull, and my blue cap.  I’d be marching along with my den mates, and cub scouts from all the other dens, in a big group, grinning and waving.  A Norman Rockwell moment.

I dreamed about that parade every night for the entire two weeks beforehand.  In my dreams, the music swelled so loud, the crowds were larger than anyone could imagine.  And I was right there in the middle of it.  The Saturday dawned, and everything was right.  The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot.  There was not a hint of rain.  My proudest moment of the parade was when I saw my mom and dad, my older sister, and my little brother all waving at me from the curb.  My face must have been split in two by my smile, in a way that only an 8 year old can smile.

Once the parade was over, and I found my parents, there was something even better to come.  The Memorial Day Picnic!  We went to Crandall Park among the trees and the picnic was already set up.  I have no idea who was behind it, but I do remember that the Marines had a hand in everything.  There were hot dogs on the grill, but you could also put one on a stick and cook it yourself.  I must have had three just like that.  There potato chips, and Fritos, and potato salad and cakes and cookies and pies and every kind of drink imaginable.  There were games and contests, some for the kids and some for the adults.  There was a softball game where I shouted for my dad when he came to bat.  He hit the ball but it was a fly ball to center field.  Even as an 8 year old, I knew that was an easy out.  I got bored with that game and waded in the pond with some friends looking for polliwogs.

The picnic lasted all day, and at night all the kids had sparklers to play with and to try to burn down the forest.  Never happened but we tried.  There were bonfires all over and the best time ever for everyone.  I’d played and fought and ran and won ribbons and eaten till I couldn’t swallow another bite or drink another drop.  Then went home and slept like the dead until the next morning.

That was the best Memorial Day I can remember.  And though the Marines were there, and I knew several of them and played with their kids at school and in the scouts, not a mention was made of remembering the fallen or memorializing their sacrifice.  It was a day of fun and food and sun.

Then some days later, not very long, there was another gathering, a much more somber one.  We were in a cemetery.  I knew that because I could see the gravestones.  But at the time, I didn’t know why we were there.  Then I noticed a family friend, David B. with his mom and sister, all dressed in black, standing by the man who was leading the gathering.  I couldn’t hear what was being said, but David’s mom was crying silent tears, dabbing them away with a handkerchief, and David looked grim.  I started to ask my mom what was going on, but she shh-ed me so I fell silent.

I’ll never forget that 21 gun salute.  I knew what that meant.  You can’t grow up in a military family without knowing that.

David B faded from my life after that.  It happens with military families.  Either your dad gets transferred or your friend’s dad gets transferred.  I was 8 and the most important thing in my life was surviving a day at school so I could go play.  And candy.  Candy was pretty important, too.

But I did puzzle out what Memorial Day was supposed to be about.

Then I lost it over the years.  It became about the grill and burgers and friends and family and summer.

One year, when I was in my very late teens or early twenties, on Memorial weekend, I was driving around town on errands of one kind or another and I happened to pass the large cemetery in town.  And there was a small American flag on every single grave site.  I never knew they did this.  It made a stunning impact, particularly since it was unexpected, and understated.

I was on my way to a friend’s house, and I mentioned to him and his mom about seeing the flags.  They were both excited to see it, so we drove over.  I didn’t know until then that his father was buried there.  They weren’t interested in seeing grave at that moment, but to take in the big picture.  It was the desert and there’s almost always a breeze blowing and the flags were stirring and making quite a display.

I remembered what Memorial Day is about.  I haven’t forgotten since.  I saw an item on my FB timeline from my hometown newspaper that the flags will be up again this year, just as they have been every year.

So, have a good time this weekend, and celebrate summer, and sun, and eat and drink.  Lord knows, I’m gonna.  But also remember those who didn’t make it home.

Memorial Day

This picture reminded me of my friend David B.  We were just about that age.

As always,


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