Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: It's Not About a Sale

Today, this Memorial Day, I've been thinking about Louis, Phil and the rest of the nearly unbelievable stories I read in Laura Hillenbrand's World War II epic, Unbroken. When my mother told me about a story of fallen heroes in our local paper, she said couldn't believe how young they looked, a sentiment I always feel when I see the sailors in town for Fleet Week in New York City. I remembered Owen Meany's reflection in John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, set partly in the Vietnam era, that children fight our wars. And I thought of the English poet Charles Causley's Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, one of the poems Natalie Merchant brought to sonic life on Leave Your Sleep, where a young boy begs a sailor bound for war,

'Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

The sailor promises to bring presents back from the sea. Three long summers go by, and when the ship returns,

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

The sailor is not on the war-torn ship. His fate is implied, and when a sailor's shipmate tries to give him the gifts, the disillusioned child asks why he's brought him children's toys (so coveted just three years earlier in youth) and where the sailor is. How to answer that question to a child.

While I completely appreciate and understand how overworked Americans are and we need coveted rest and family time at the beach, barbecues, and parks, I'm a little saddened to think our fallen veterans are not getting at the very least some moments of respect and recognition. The most deplorable thing is that it's turned into another sale day for retailers. Salute our war dead: go buy a new television or summer dress made by underpaid labor in China, 25 percent off!

I like to attend a Memorial Day parade to cheer on local veterans and other heroes: police, volunteer fire and ambulance personal. This year, I went to one in Dumont, New Jersey. It was an extremely muggy morning, but at times when I feel discomfort, I think now of Louis and Phil floating in that raft in the Pacific fighting off sharks after their search plane went down and think, stop feeling sorry for yourself!

Historic reenacters remind us of those who scarified for our freedom from England and later to keep our nation unified. Just down the street is an old church with a cemetery where some laid to rest fought for the Revolution.

I wish for peace for future generations. If that's a childish wish, so be it.

"Life was cheap in war," said Martin Cohn, an ordnance officer in Oahu in Hillenbrand's Unbroken. Let's not ever consider life to be cheap, and to not forget the sacrifices.

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