Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Decoration Day

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Decoration Day -- Jo Robertson
Every age has honored its soldiers who die in service to their country. The United States is not unique in setting aside a national holiday to commemorate their dead. In American the original date was May 30, 1868, chosen because it was the only day which was not the anniversary of a battle.

My dad was a military man and I grew up on rousing songs and stories of soldiering. He always told me that every veteran, regardless of rank, from colonel to private, was entitled at his death to a full military funeral with the bugle, the gun salute, the whole stirring ceremony.

I was young, and too many of MY friends died needlessly and heedlessly in Vietnam, so I wasn’t much listening to my father. But when he passed away several years ago, Dad received a military service funeral. Family and friends gathered at the grave site, nestled among the lush greenery that only Virginia seems to produce in such lively abundance.

And there they were -- these baby-faced soldiers, cradling their rifles exactly so, protecting the flag-draped coffin until the moment when two other equally baby-faced men removed the flag from the coffin, and with military precision, folded it and handed it to my mother.

When the guns resounded over the beautiful Virginia countryside, I admit that I cried, not just for the loss of my father, but for the twenty-two year old man he’d once been in a foxhole on Iwo Jima -- and for every young soldier throughout history whose ultimate sacrifice ensures freedom for me.

British poet Wilfred Owen wrote a poem during World War I, a line of which is “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” a Latin phrase which means literally “Sweet and proper it is for country to die.”

We may argue with the sentiment of the words, and Owen meant the poem as bitter irony, but I think we agree the world over that a nation’s greatest honors should go to those who serve their country.


Caren Crane said...

Thank you, Jo, for reminding us why we have the last Monday in May off work. As I mentioned in my earlier post, my father-in-law was a POW in Germany in WWII. It certainly had a profound effect on my husband. To the extent that he served not only in the Marines, but also in the Air Force. =:0

I think for the very young, it is harder than it was when I was a girl to feel the profound patriotic stirrings. All the "modern" wars since WWII have been plagued with such controversy as to whether we should be involved that people are not sure how to feel about them. But everyone I know fully supports our brave service persons. They answer the call no matter where they are sent and no matter if they agree with what they are asked to do.

One of my critique partners is waiting for her husband to be deployed to Iraq or Kuwait or Afghanistan or wherever they need him most this summer. I am proud that he and all our soldiers are willing to offer this most profound service for us and the world. And saddened that any of it is necessary.

Beth said...

Like Caren, my FIL also was a POW in Germany during WWII. When my FIL passed away, he had the full military funeral but what made it extra special to us was that my husband's brother (who had served in the Air Force) a niece serving in the Army and three nephews (one marine, two navy) dressed in their uniforms accompanied the casket and presented the folded flag to my MIL. Another nephew played Taps on his bugle.

No matter what our political views, I believe the men and women serving in our military deserve our respect and our gratitude.

Thank you for the lovely post, Jo.

Aunty Cindy said...

No matter what our political views, I believe the men and women serving in our military deserve our respect and our gratitude.

Beth, couldn't agree with you more! Thank you and Caren for sharing about your FILs. My former FIL (still around at age 88) served in the South Pacific during WWII. My own father was in the Navy in Korea.

BIG THANK YOU, Jo for a very stirring post!

Anna Campbell said...

Jo, really moving post. Thank you. I agree profoundly with you that people who have fought to keep my country free deserve every consideration and respect we can give them. And people with opposing political views are only able to express those views because men and women have died to preserve that privilege. In World War II, as I'm sure most of you know, Australia was next on the list for Japanese invasion. We were bombed and a Japanese submarine got into Sydney Harbour and sank a couple of vessels with tragic loss of life. The US used Australia as the base from which they fought back across the Pacific so we've been comrades in arms for many years now. Our equivalent of Memorial Day is Anzac Day on 25th April which commemorates a defeat in World War I. What's great is that Anzac Day is probably the national holiday here which receives the most sincere observance and it doesn't seem to be fading even as the people who fought in the 20th century's tragic and terrible wars pass away.

jo lewis-robertson said...

Thanks, Anna, for posting that bit of Australian history about Anzac Day. Plus you grow the most lovely men LOL. jo

danetteb said...

Hi Jo,
Thanks for the thoughtful post,living in Hawaii there are always military ,its kind of sad constantly seeing people being deployed and their families being without a loved one for long periods of time,but I'm glad there are people fighting for our country.
Hugs, Danette

Stacy S said...

That's a great post. I agree with Beth-
No matter what our political views, I believe the men and women serving in our military deserve our respect and our gratitude.

Trish Milburn said...

Wonderful post, Jo. And I totally agree with the comments about supporting our soldiers no matter our political point of view on the conflicts they are sent to fight.

Joan said...


Yes, our military deserves every bit of support we can give them.

Two years ago, I participated in the sadly all too short program SOS begun by Kathyrn Falk of RT. She began a newsletter which sent out names of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The men and women that I met through mail, email and sending care packages were the most astounding group. I learned more about honor, integrity, commitment, courage and bravery then I had my whole life. I know that my communication with one Louisiana National Guardsman made a difference for him and I am humbled by the sacrifice he and his men made for my freedom.

KimW said...

I completely agree. It tugs at the heart reading your post. The greatest honors should go to those who serve. Sadly, I lost my brother who was in the Army and died way too young. It's a constant reminder of what our soldiers do and the risks they take every day for all of us.

Ashley Danielle said...

Great Memorial Day blog. Being a third generation Army brat, it's hard to see neighbors, friends from high school, and family go off to fight. Its wonderful to celebrate and honor the lives freely given so that we could live our lives the way we wish to! And thanks for sharing about Anzac Day!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Jo, what a beautiful post! Thanks for helping us keep the purpose of the holiday alive.

Right now, several of my son's closest friends are in Iraq. Periodically, I answer the phone and hear, "Hi Mom," since they call me that and I thank God they're still okay. Although one did take some scrapnel in a fire fight about a year ago.

Tawny said...

What a beautiful post, Jo. We buried my Grampa in December, with a full military service. The beauty and symblism of the cermony was incredibly touching, but never more so then I watched through tear drenched eyes as the servicewoman handed my Grandma the folded flag - and watching the look of grace and pride on Grandma's face... it was so enlightening.

We're blessed to have people serve our countries, and blessed too, with the ones who love them enough to wait, hope and support their bravery.

Robb L. said...

My wife asked me what Memorial Day "memorializes" and I stifled a snort and my characteristic reproof usually given when my "ignorance is bliss" needle spikes past the redline of bemusement and into the "fear for the future" zone. Soon, I was hypertensively decrying the thinness of the line, the razor's edge and cut - boys and girls born near the end of a cold war now dying in searing deserts - along which my conscience marches. Guys graduating in the 1980's from High School joined the armed forces, the joke went, because they had seen Tom Cruise in "Top Gun", and only dimly repented of their decision when they found themselves standing in dry-dock scraping barnacles from the bottom of a Navy vessel, realizing that a Commander or an "XO" of such a boat had the good fortune to afford to go to college. Now, two decades later, those captains and engineers steer political, industrial and yes, military boats safe within the waters of their comfortable appointments or speaking tours while the unfortunate sons of the working class do the dying and other heavy lifting. As my hypertension turns to thoughts of the 33 year-old widow who lives across the street from our home, I ask: "Sandra? are you awake?"
"Mmmmm...yeah. So WHO am I supposed to remember on Monday?" Stumped for a salient response, I am saved by her answering her own question in far fewer words than I ever could, "I'll just remember Becka."
"Who?", I ask.
"Hello!...whose husband died in Iraq last year?"
Humbled already, she adds: "We're pretty...I dunno, fortunate, don't you think?"
Yes, I think. I think for the rest of the day and the next day and even now, at 2:00 AM Thursday morning.
I have to get some brain rest; I have a full desk of engineering plans to review in a few hours.

CrystalG said...

A wonderful post. I completely agree.

kennan said...

my ambivalence about memorial day began this year when my pacifist daughter asked me if soliders are bad, because they kill people. have you ever tried to explain war to a seven-year-old? "baby-faced soldiers" comes to mind again, because those are the faces i see when their pictures are memorialized on television. this, of course, sandwiched between two commercials about which department store has the best sale for memorial day weekend. after my daughter reminds me that the holiday is actually wednesday (and after i reject her idea of having a rally to protest the war!), we instead take a hike along a beautiful stretch of woodlands by the st. joseph river. she wants to carve the names of all the dead in every tree. there are thousands of trees, and they spiral to the sky with arms stretched to heaven. but, sadly, the names of the dead are too numerous for this thick colony of trees that parades for miles.

i agree, "a nation's greatest honors should go to those who serve their country." that includes baby-faced military children with loyalty and history this gen-x'er can never understand, as well as thousands of innocent civilians caught in political conflicts both selfish and worthy. how do i remember this and go about my daily life--shopping at lowe's?? it makes me feel selfish and profoundly sad.

my daughter gave me the answer in a journal entry she made at the martin luther king memorial museum in atlanta last december. "i want to fight for peace!" she wrote simply. perhaps it is "sweet and proper" to LIVE for country as well!

Dianna said...

Such beautiful, heartfelt sentiments and I totally agree. I had no family in the military, or none that I remember, but nothing stirs my heart more than seeing the flag wave in the breeze. I am 55 years old and I mourn the traditions we had in school of pledging our allegiance to the flag. My children were taught patriotism at home but many weren't. It certainly isn't taught at school anymore.