Yesterday many of us celebrated Memorial Day in the US. When I was a kid, Memorial Day was always spent exactly the same way. We would head home from our lake cottage, a two season, outhouse equipped, hand pump your water place that a blue collar worker could afford in the early 60’s, and the Old Man would put on his American Legion uniform and march in the Memorial Day parade. After the parade a wreath would be placed in the cemetery, the Legion 'firing squad' would fire a few volleys and we kids would scramble to pick up the .30-06 brass that was ejected from the World War 1 era -03 Springfields. The vets would head to the Legion Club for a few beers and a Memorial Day lunch and then we’d head for home. I had only a vague idea of what any of these guys, these gruff friends of the Old Man, did in the war but I did know that the older guys were in WW I and the younger ones in WW II or Korea. The older guys were in their mid 60’s at that time and the younger WW II and Korea guys were in their late 30’s and early 40’s.
Today I kind of revived the tradition and headed down to Lakewoods Cemetary to check out the events. There was music and speeches but no 'firing squad' while I was there. The hundreds of flags reminded me of another childhood Memorial Day ritual, that of replacing all the old flags with new ones and sending the old ones off to be properly burned. There were a lot of people in the cemetery but my ploy of sneaking in the back gate was not needed. There were plenty of spots to park. A lot of the people were my age or older, looking for the graves of friends or loved ones and perhaps just reflecting on history as I was.
The page below is from my dads WW II scrapbook that his aunt, my great aunt, Margaret put together while he was overseas. About 20% of Eau Claire County male population was in the military during WW II. Service was pretty much universal and across the board. When I was a kid my doctor, dentist, uncle, great uncle, grandfather, father, godfather, etc., etc., had all been in the military. One of the missing in the clippings on the page was my godfather, another was my high school science teacher. Thankfully both made it back from POW camps in Germany. Some were drafted and some volunteered but it was a duty that cut across socioeconomic and class lines. These days the attitude seems to be that the military is at war and the rest of the country is at the mall. Gas prices has pretty much driven Iraq off the front page and out of peoples minds. Universal service and the draft are not popular in this country but certainly would get more people engaged in the debate, as it did in Vietnam. One of the other items in the scrapbook was a ration stamp book. On the cover it states, “This book is your Government’s assurance of your right to buy your fair share of certain goods made scarce by the war…..If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT”. One of the Old Man’s frequent comments was that he hoped that the American Legion would die out someday due to lack of eligible members. Our former Minnesota Governor, the often controversial Jesse Ventura, proposed that as soon as the decision to commit troops was made the draft should be instituted and every one in government with an opportunity to vote on the issue would need to designate which immediate family member would serve. I fear that unless war and the decision to go to war is felt by decision makers and the public emotionally, economically, and personally, that we will continue to plunge into these conflicts. I hope we can break the cycle.