by Mary Beth Maney, RDC
Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, is a national holiday for remembrance, reflection, and prayer as we recall the heroes and heroines of all wars “who gave their yesteryears that we might have our tomorrows.”
I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The neighboring town was Waterloo, N.Y., where Memorial Day, then known as Decoration Day, was first observed in 1867 to honor the dead of the Civil War by placing flowers on their graves.
It has become a Memorial Day tradition for the American Legion and other organizations to place small American flags on veterans’ graves in local cemeteries, hold ceremonies and play Taps. The American Legion Auxiliary memorializes our patriots by distributing handmade red poppies. During World War 1, John McCrae penned the famous lines, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row that mark our place." Since then, the red poppy has become a symbol of our fallen veterans.
I was living in Albany, N.Y., in a two-family house during World War 2. Two of my brothers, Paul and Gerard, were serving overseas. Howard, the boy upstairs, enlisted in the Army in 1944 and was sent for infantry training to Florida. I was 21 and enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Spars along with 10,000 other young women.
In his last letter to me, Howard wrote that he was shipping out and “just think of the swell time we are going to have at ‘95’ when everybody comes home.” He was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest land battle of World War 2, a quasi-victory with 19,000 American casualties. His mother, along with so many others, became a Gold Star mother and displayed a service flag with a gold star on it in the window.
I am privileged to be a veteran and to have served my country, and grateful to have been able to use the G.I. Bill of Rights to pay for two years of college education. Sixty-one years ago, I entered the Sisters of the Divine Compassion in White Plains, N.Y. and am the sole veteran in our community.
Over the years, Memorial Day has lost much of its meaning. Now it heralds the start of the summer season, a three-day weekend for travel, sales and the Indianapolis 500. The significance of the day is hollow. There are fewer parades, ceremonies and flags on display. Some veterans, like a cousin of mine who served in the Army in the Pacific Theater, can’t get beyond the sadness of the day. It brings back the horror and reality of war, and all the precious lives lost in even more recent conflicts, Korea, Viet Nam, Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps, this year, we can renew and re-kindle the true significance of Memorial Day. At the very least, we might pause for a moment, to pray for our honored dead, and ask our God for peace within, and in our ever-war-torn world. Only then, in the words of Greg Norbet, our honored dead “shall sleep secure with peace.”
Peace to all!