by Ruth Faas
Memorial Day Weekend, 2012
The Wikipedia description of Memorial Day is interesting.. I hadn’t known, for example, that African-Americans in South Carolina held the first official Memorial Day in 1865 to honor fallen Union soldiers. Reading this take on how the holiday has changed over the years (before and after that observance) brings to mind the shifting needs and uses that commemoration can have for us.Last year the half-sized replica of the Vietnam War Memorial came to Arlington, MA, for four days in April. At the last minute I squeezed volunteering for it into my life. The whole experience was moving in many ways. Behind the scenes I could see how much people had done to make this happen, for example.
I spent my shift helping people look in a guidebook to locate specific names on the Wall, since it’s arranged chronologically, not alphabetically. One woman came up to me to talk about how confusing and awful the time had been and how she regretted the harshness she had felt necessary as an anti-war protestor during that difficult time. I was slightly too young to remember much first-hand about that time, but I could relate. I have had some painful disagreements with my beloved brother, even in peace time. He was in the Army from 1985 until he retired, and he was deployed during the First Gulf War.
As this woman talked, an older man in uniform walked back and forth behind her, clearly listening. I couldn’t find a way to offer an opening to him to join us, but I hope that there was some solace in hearing that she was inspired to bring the Wall to her own town as a way to pay respect.
The evening was messy at times. What it means to show respect was contested in several ways, such as when a conflict played out about whether a dog could be present. I always wish more grace and compassion for us all, just doing the best we can.
Here is what one man did. The Memorial requires that someone be present at all times, 24/7, while it is in your town. I learned from a volunteer who was there for the Opening Ceremonies that his shift was not until the early morning hours. I commented on what a challenge this would be. It was cold already, very cold, and the sun hadn’t even set yet. He said quietly that he would keep this vigil because in Vietnam this was the time that it was his turn to keep watch.
I want us, as a country and individually, to remember that we are at war right now. It behooves us as human beings to bear witness and to stay as present as we can, including through expressing disagreement. We can join others in observing a Moment of Silence on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm, local time, to remember those who have died for our country. I hope that we can use this structured remembrance to stay connected with each other and with our feelings about what is happening.
There are many ways to grieve and commemorate those who have died. I welcome your stories on the Tribute Ideas section here at www.MourningDoveStudio.com.