It began as Decoration Day in 1868, a day when the graves of Civil War soldiers were spruced up, flowers planted, and flags placed. As wars rolled over us in the 20th century the day became known as Memorial Day, the last Monday in May when all the nations war dead were honored. In my family we were inevitably up at our cabin on a lake about an hour north of town but we usually made it back for the Memorial Day parade and ceremonies. That was because the day was very important to my dad and also due to his involvement in the celebration and events.
My dad and most of his buddies and classmates were veterans of World War II and active in the American Legion. A couple of weeks before each Memorial Day, a bunch of them and a bunch of us kids would go around to the local cemeteries and replace every flag in every flag holder on all the veterans graves in town. It seemed as a ten year old kid that there were an awful lot of them. Memorial Day Monday usually involved the old man and his fellow vets getting into their American Legion uniforms and marching in the parade. They would then head down to the band shell on the river where speeches were made and a few volleys were fired by the color guard with vintage WWI ’03 Springfield rifles. Kids would wait underfoot and then scramble for the ejected 30.06 shells as the color guard ejected them and then jacked another shell into the chamber for the next volley. The day ended with beers at the Legion Club and a few sodas and dimes for the pinball machine for we kids.
This Memorial Day was very different. We started the seven hour drive back home in a vintage Lake Superior thunderstorm on the tip of the Keweenaw. As we perpared to check out I ran down to the desk to touch base with the owner of the mom and pop resort we stayed at. He is an elderly fellow and was in the process of tracking down a relatives military service on ‘the Google’ as he referred to it, while watching the national service from Arlington on the TV. They had had a service at Fort Wilkins, the Michigan State Park near Copper Harbor but the thunderbuster and resort duty had made it tough for him to get over there this year. I felt kind of bad that we didn’t get to any events but watching Bob in his little office and remembering how we used to celebrate the day made me feel good. When we got to Superior,WI we decided to head down MN 23, the Veterans Memorial Highway, past the veterans overlook above the valley of the St Louis River. It wasn’t much but it prompted more thought and talk of the day and what Memorial Day is all about. I guess that thinking and remembering is the point after all.