In my youth Memorial Day was different. It was a day of remembrance, honor and appreciation of those who died in the service to our nation.
I lived in a small village and parades were loosely organized. School bands marched playing Souza’s tunes and the service anthems. The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts paraded in uneven lines as the local fife and drum corps headed up the volunteer firemen and a police contingent. The Ladies Auxiliary from the VFW posts was there too. They always seem to march with a grace that the vets couldn’t muster.
I rode my bike festooned with red, white and blue crinkled crape paper woven in the wheel spokes with a piece of cardboard attached to the bike frame and moved by the spokes. It rattled like a motor as the wheel turned. We kids would ride between the marching groups; little American flags taped to our handlebars fluttered in the peddled breezes.
The guests of honor were always the veterans. Some wore their old uniforms and proudly displayed battle and campaign ribbons. Tight fitting uniforms kept the bulges of time from being too noticeable. Their step was proud as they kept their eyes ahead and heads held high.
The veteran contingents marched together by the war in which they served. In my youth, in my small town in central New York, the largest groups at that time were the vets from World War Two; that war had ended only a few years earlier. Then came the doughboys from World War One. They were older and fewer. The oldest veterans, two from the Spanish American War rode in a convertible at the head of the parade. The next year they were gone and a Medal of Honor recipient rode at the head of the parade.
The parade ended at a local monument honoring all those from the area who died in war. Their names were embossed in bas-relief bronze on a plaque bolted to chiseled granite.
Memorial Day Celebrations in those days engendered a reverence for the fallen. Even as youngsters we felt a connection to those who had passed. We all knew someone whose Father didn’t come home.
Little did we know then that Korea, Quemoy and Matsu, Vietnam, Iraq one, Grenada and Iraq two and Afghanistan would follow and there would be new war veterans marching.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful that in some future time Memorial Day would have no new names to remember?