Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nothing "Happy" About It

I have never, ever wished anyone a "Happy Memorial Day", and I don't plan on doing so anytime in the future. It's not a "happy" time, like Forth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. There is nothing happy about it at all, if you recall the real reason for the commemoration.

When I was growing up, my Grandfather called it Decoration Day. Now it's Memorial Day, the day we're supposed to honor our war dead, who  made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom.  It is not the first day of the summer season- that's nearly a full month away, in June.There were no three day weekends to go to the beach.  Maybe the family got together to have a picnic, but you did it because you were honoring the sacrifice someone made for you to freely assemble.. after you put fresh flowers and a small American flag on the grave of your Uncle who was killed in the line of duty. I can't for the life of me understand the reasoning behind Memorial Day sales in retail stores  No one died in battle so I could get 30% off on a new swimsuit. It's not honoring the life of a dead soldier when I swing on by the mall for some great deals at JC Penney and then stop off at McDonald's for a Big Mac at the food court. In fact, back in the Stone Age, when I was a kid, not only were the stores closed, everything else was closed, too...and Memorial Day was observed on May 31st...whichever day of the week it fell.

I can fully get behind a Memorial Day parade where all the branches of the military are represented, where veterans, survivors, the VFW and the Boy Scouts march and all the high school marching bands turn out.
I want to see those elderly veterans ( whose numbers are dwindling yearly) riding in cars with the top down so I can wave back and let them know I not only appreciate their service to their country-and me- but that I'm happy to see they made it another year.  I truly appreciate the freedom to be allowed to stand on the curb and wave, because I know somewhere in the world, my contemporary in another country is unable to do so. I want to see a parent with a gold star on his/her collar so I can tell them that the son or daughter s/he lost in battle did not die in vain.

It's a crying shame-an absolutely, unabashedly, literally crying shame- that there are only a handful of citizens who have not served in the military or Scouts who know anything about the proper display of the American flag per the U.S. Flag Code- or that such a law exists. When I was a kid, my retired Army cook Grandfather taught me how to fold an American flag military presentation style, in a tight triangle, and how to quickly run the flag up the pole to the top first, before lowering it to half-staff on Memorial Day.

In elementary school chorus, we learned all the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land and by the third grade we could do a decent job of singing each as a group. By the sixth grade we knew what the lyrics really meant and were proud be the ones selected to sing them at the ceremony when the wreath was laid at the veteran's cemetery in  memory of those who lost their lives- many on foreign soil- to preserve the idea of democracy.

Yes, I will sing God Bless America as a Goddess-worshiping  Pagan, because I know that  the sentiment of the song transcends the lyrics and understand what was in Irving Berlin's heart when he wrote it and Kate Smith's patriotic pride when she sang it...and I am unashamed to say that I am old enough to remember seeing Kate Smith sing it live on TV- and thrilled now with the fact  I had that honor.

I remember most of the words to the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, who was a Canadian, by the way- and that Flanders is in Belgium. Poppies grew wild and in perfusion in the area where the war dead of the Ypres battles are buried, and that's why they are the symbol of Remembrance Day, what Memorial Day is called overseas.  ( For those of you interested in pop culture, the song Snoopy's Christmas by the 1960's group The Royal Guardsman, is set during the famous Christmas truce in Ypres, where Charlie Brown's dog imagines he's a WWI flying ace fighting the Red Baron.)

No matter how sappy and corny anyone thinks it is, God Bless The USA by Lee Greenwood is a great tribute song to our military. Because I don't think Lee was much of a feminist or ever imagined there were  women in combat and  when he penned that song, I always change the word 'men' to ' folks" in the line
"...and I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me". I just think it's more appropriate, since so many of my sisters have given their lives for our country's freedom, too, right  along side our brothers.

I live too far away from where my Grandparents are buried to put an American flag on Pop's grave, but I hope a Boy Scout or someone in another public service organization has gone around to check for veteran's markers and sees the tiny US Army emblem I purposely had installed on his side of the bronze plaque. It's the only way Memorial Day would ever be happy for me.


  1. This consumerist world we live in blows my mind. Any "holiday" they want, they turn it into something about "buy this!" "buy that!" and it's ridiculous. It's all about making money.

    Both of my Grandfathers fought in World War II, one in Japan and one at Pearl Harbor (the day it was bombed). They were great men, both passed on for a number of years now, but they deserve better than what this consumerist culture would like to bestow them.

    I know the words to many of the songs you listed as well. =) Lee Greenwood's is one of my favorites.

  2. Thank you for sharing your sentiments with us. As a U.S. Navy veteran, I don't mind wishing people a Happy Weekend, but I stop short here on Monday. Memorial Day isn't something to which I'd attach a "Happy" greeting, either. I do hope there is someone there to place a wreath or flag on your grandfather's grave. Hugs and many blessings to you.

  3. I agree Hailey. Also, I am making a print out of all the songs mentioned here because I am an idiot obviously (Not knowing the lyrics) and I loathe to be ignorant. Thanks for the great post and if you don't mind I'd like to link it through my blog.

  4. @ Graycie-Thanks for asking about linking to your blog; be my guest. The words to all the songs are available on line. I included the link for the lyrics and a video so you can hear the tune for 'Snoopy's Christmas', because it's a bit obscure.

  5. I found your blog by way of another's link to a different post of your's, in which I actually made a post on my blog about; it was the post about those who come to your door to proselytize, which I thought was awesome post by the way and was sure to link back to your blog. After finishing up with that I decided to continue reading through your blog and I'm glad I did, you've hit the nail on the head with this post as well!

    As a military spouse and as family and friend to many people who have fought in every major military action and some who have died (as recent as this Jan. I'm sad to say). I grew up military in addition to being married to the military, both my parents were in the Marines as well as my brother, my Grandfathers and their fathers.

    I agree that Memorial day was never meant to be a 'Happy' day. Some of the things you write here have taken me back to some of the things I remember doing in schools (some of which were military DOD schools, and others which were public) and I don't see a lot of it happening anymore with our children, which is a crying shame!

    Thank you for your post, it reminds me of more things to do with my children to remember why we honor this holiday.

    Here is the post I made on Memorial day, nothing like your post but a post to honor those that this day is about.

    I'll warn you, there is a post-card in it that is written from the Mom who lost her son to my Great Grandma.


    1. Sometimes the comments to posts don't show right away, and I don't see them, but I wanted to thank you for your comment and for sharing your story. Sharing our stories is what keeps these people alive.

  6. My husband and I are both Navy vets, and both of us have lost friends and family in service...and while I, too, can easily rant over the idea that Memorial Day should not be about carpet sales, I also don't think that our loved ones begrudge a barbecue or a day at the beach. In the tradition of both the military, which includes the Missing Man Table Ceremony and various Pagan paths that include ancestors and deities with meals, our family has merged those two ideas, and we set a spot at the family meal and take a moment to remember. Because, I think, having had that thought--that I might be called upon to die for my country--that I would rather be remembered with life than in death.

  7. Awesome... just Awesome!!!!

    You have truly captured how I feel about Memorial Day.

    Thank you.


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