As most Americans well know, Monday May 27, is Memorial Day. This hallowed date, of course, marks the occasion of remembering and honoring military service people who have paid the extreme sacrifice for our country. This last Monday in May is also unofficially considered the beginning of summer, whereas Labor Day marks summer’s end on the last Monday of September.
History tells us Memorial Day has commemorated fallen military since 1868, just after the Civil War (1861-65) when the North and South suffered over 600,000 deaths. Although the practice of placing flowers on military graves began prior to the Civil War, the American time-honored and solemn staple of paying reverence to those who gave their lives for their country was not called “Memorial Day” until 1967 and wasn’t an official national holiday until 1971. Prior to 1967 it was referred to as “Decoration Day,” signifying the flowers and mementoes (how many of us want to spell “mementoes” as “momentoes”?) placed on graves. Memorial Day is also one of three days that pay homage to our soldiers. The others are Veteran’s Day on November 11 and the lesser known Armed Forces Day, which is the third Saturday in May and specifically honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.
Although Memorial Day focuses on the supreme sacrifice soldiers paid, as of late, in addition to visiting cemeteries, paying tribute through serious ceremonial programs and the intense heart-wrenching playing of taps and the startling cacophony of a 21-gun salute—family get-togethers, whether at home or the lake, have become a significant part of this solemn day.
The holiday has expanded to include honoring those loved ones we have lost. How many of us, in fact, remember our formative years when we were brought to the cemeteries to place lovingly arranged flower baskets, crosses or personal keepsakes, ranging from a favorite fishing jig to a spent rifle or shotgun shell or a half a movie stub or baby shoes, etc. Like beauty, memory tokens exist in the eye of the beholder.
If we close our eyes this Memorial Day and like Dorothy in one of the most famous lines from the 1939 movie classic seen by more people than any other film, “The Wizard of Oz,” click our heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home,” we’ll be magically poofed back to a time when as children we gleefully hauled water to those delightfully colorful and sweet-smelling flower boxes at the base of what we saw as upright rocks, some shiny, some weathered, some big, some small. There we’ll again see tiny American flags rippling in a wind that always seems to either blow hot or cold, like the adult faces that alternatingly smiled and teared-up. We’ll smell the freshly cut grass and heady lilacs and marvel at how lavender-frosted the grass-green leaves and toast-brown branches of the lilac bushes are.
Then, as a clergy walks from “rock to rock” and we follow, we will again wonder why even though people are holding hands and hugging one another, many are crying. As some of us look back to those days of innocence, we each will have a Bible referent like “through the glass darkly” or “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child” float through our thoughts like a butterfly. Then, maybe, just maybe, some of us will once again hear our favorite English or Sunday school teachers reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s insightful quote, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Still others will visualize Snoopy being content just to chase butterflies with a hoop net rather than catch them. Some Bob Seeger fans might even think of the rock bard’s heart-rending lyrics from his 1980 Grammy Award winning song, “Against the Wind”: “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
A select few, however, whether they want to or not, will summon up butterfly images of a different sort, like that from William Golding’s 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies” when in the aftermath of the violent killing of a pig by the stranded, rudderless and amoral boys, Golding wrote, “The butterflies still danced, preoccupied in the center of the clearing.”
Even though our military veterans are deservingly being acknowledged for their service, those who have seen the true horrors of war but do not willingly share these dire experiences, understand what Ernest Hemingway said of war: “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” Those of us who remember family and friends who are or were war veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam up through our more modern conflicts, sadly know how even though they rarely mention or mentioned their service vividly recall how beyond that profound thankfulness for being alive, there is a locked away sense of survivor’s guilt and a deep-seated love for those lost or still suffering. No one understands two of the conflicts we studied in school like man versus man and man versus himself like those who have either been there or loved someone who has been there. In this respect, perhaps modern sports participants and those who comment about them should think twice about using the misnomers “warrior” or “going to war” when describing sports.
Before we plop a bobber or fire up the grill or light the campfire this Memorial Day weekend and feel guilty for doing so in light of what many veterans have endured, take heed to what our long-time family friend, Vietnam vet and former Minnesota State DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Commander Bob Erickson says, “If you don’t enjoy the freedoms of being safe and sound, relaxing and laughing with family and friends on Memorial Day, we will have sacrificed in vain.”
As you have a safe and happy Memorial weekend and remember and honor our veterans, both living and fallen, keep in mind this story about a young man who while in college had the opportunity to visit France with a college friend who grew up in Paris. Of all the places he went in Europe he said the one that affected him most was the sacred cemetery at Collerville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, located on the bluffs overlooking “Omaha Beach.” Looking at the 9,387 white crosses and the pristine beauty of the bluffs and beach and visualizing the horrific brutality and sacrifice that occurred there changed his life forever. It was then he truly realized what monuments such as the Vietnam Memorial mean to those who served and what Memorial Day means to not only all veterans, but to their families and friends.
While honoring our veterans and treasured passed on family members, remember what Commander Erickson and the DAV say, “All gave some, but some gave all.” Also, take to heart what St. Augustine said, “The purpose of all war is ultimately peace.”
Finally, as many veterans and their families well know, when we hear our National Anthem sung, we should think of American Reverend Aaron Kilbourn’s words, “The dead soldier’s silence sings our National Anthem.” Have a safe and memorable Memorial weekend lovingly remembering those who have passed.
Nik and Rod Dimich are on the pro staffs of Mercury Marine and Ray’s Sport & Marine in Grand Rapids, Minn. Rod is also a pro-staffer for L&M Supply and his radio show “Woods & Water” can be heard each Friday at 5:50 P.M. on KQDS 95, 106.3 on “The Train Wreck’s Drive at Five.” To contact Dimich Outdoors, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Kristin Dimich contributes to this column.