Old men remember.
We remember the ones who didn’t have the chance to grow old like ourselves, to become grandfathers like we did, and to look in the closet at the uniform that once fit their young bodies as we do now.
On Memorial Day, the whole country is supposed to remember. There are always ceremonies held at city parks and cemeteries, but they take a back seat to the family trips to the beach, the sales at the mall, and backyard cookouts.
But, it is the veterans themselves who really remember. They once shared a foxhole or airplane or a hospital ward with those now in the ground. And even if they didn’t know them personally, they render their respect. Honors are given across the generation gap as the old remember the young men from our town who died this spring in Iraq.
(Click on each photo – you will see the full sized version of the picture.)
I find it interesting that many of the old vets were not willing soldiers themselves. The draft ended in 1973, and many of those who were in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam were drafted. But they still went – did their duty – and returned home a little different. As the years went past, some military traditions took on deeper meaning. One of those traditions is the salute – a skill mastered only by those who served, and the deeper meaning of which is unknown to civilians. To a veteran, a sharp salute expresses a comradeship – a sharing of respect. After another of our city’s young men was killed in Iraq, many came forward to render their farewell salute to a young man who will not see his own young son grow into a man.
And I wonder – I wonder what the young soldier’s widow is thinking this Memorial Day. I doubt she will be at the mall, and somehow I don’t think she is interested in a trip to the beach. More likely, she will be remembering her late husband. Two months have passed since he died – enough time to have wrestled with the faceless government bureaucracies, to get used to the “I’m so sorry” greetings, and try to deal with the fact that she is a young and unwilling single mother. I know she is going to receive a plaque at a ceremony, but I wonder if she will try to find time to visit her husband’s grave - alone.
While the rest of the country drinks beer, watches TV, and has family gatherings, I wonder what this family is doing. Their son died on May 6th – only three weeks ago. After the coffin was unloaded from the airplane, they huddled together on the tarmac to watch. No doubt, this year’s Memorial Day will be one of bitter mourning.
Sometime in the future, different old men will remember. They will be the survivors of the current wars who will remember the men and women who didn’t get the chance to be old. They will know the deeper meaning of Memorial Day – and render their own salute. And they will know Memorial Days occur every day.