Memorial Day. During my school years, Memorial Day was marked as the day when our school’s marching band would meet in a nearby town square, we would line up, then march in respectful cadence to the local cemetery with a local honor guard from a veterans’ group.
We would stand “at ease” while prayers and patriotic poetry or speeches were said and during the 21-gun salute. We would play a couple of songs and after Taps was played, we would march back the way we came. We repeated this in a couple of our small burgs. Afterwards, we would return home to our own family gatherings.
At the time, I am sad to say, my focus was more on how hot and miserable we were than what was actually happening. Today, just thinking about those ceremonies and the pain, grief and courage, which is the very foundation of Memorial Day, makes me want to tear up.
Each headstone adorned with a simple American Flag is a reflection of someone who had been thrust into a violent conflict not of their own making. While most were volunteers, many were drafted or conscripted into service, especially for the Vietnam War. If you go to the website for The Living Vietnam War at http://www.virtualwall.org/iStates.htm, you can see name after name of young men from your state and town.
It shows their name, age, the date of their tour, date of death and if their body was recovered. Most were boys, barely out of high school and most died within six months of the start of their tour. I can’t fathom the agony of families who waited and prayed for their sons to come home safely, only to learn their children died even as lovingly packed care packages were slowly making their way to them.
My mind imagines the horrific moments of chaos, pain, fear and the desire for nothing more than being home within their circle of their family as these young men and in some cases, women, lived their final moments. It makes my heart ache for those families.
The soldiers who came home from these conflicts were never really done with duty. Often labeled as “shell shocked” from earlier conflicts, these warriors continued to be in battle for years. Their post-traumatic stress, physical issues stemming from heavy packs, jumping from planes and wounds from battle or training exercises stay with them.
Many are haunted by the atrocities witnessed or terrible choices they were forced to make during war time. The ghosts of events past, will not leave them be and the relentless memories leads to suicides of many of our veterans, making them also casualties of war.
In my youthful ignorance, I was oblivious to all these aspects of the day. Today, the sound of Taps, and the collection of the casings bring a lump to my throat. I think about the survivors who arrive at these ceremonies, paying their respects to brothers and sisters-in-arms, and the courage and grief they must experience each time they go through this rite of remembrance. For their classmate, their child, their parent or friend who gave so very much for us. Their continued involvement with veterans’ groups
I hope, during this weekend, people will pause during their cookout, or mattress shopping or swim party to give a moment to think about what a courageous and precious gift each one gave us. We must acknowledge our warriors and consider the families whose lives were forever changed because of their service to our country. We must never lose the memory part of Memorial Day. We owe them as much.
Written and submitted by Sarah Roush for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.