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. 6/29/08 by collette
“Thanks, but I already have plans for the day," I informed my friend who just invited me over for a day of barbequing and swimming. That was how most of America was spending the day. It was a three day weekend and most people could do this activity any weekend of the year but they make a big deal of it on this particular day. Eating drinking, swimming. That is all this day meant to most people; a time to get together and be a family and enjoy one extra day off work. At least an extra day off if you weren't in the food or merchandise industry. Or the gas industry. Or entertainment industry. The malls would be packed with bargain hunters, sales would be rampant using the day as a reason for extra profits. Movie goers would be out in droves, getting away from routine. Though nowadays, shopping, eating out and going to movies was routine. And profits would be made, no matter how big the sale percentage. Merchants weren't giving stuff away! Besides, most people don't limit themselves to just what's on sale.
My husband and I went to my dad's house and loaded him up into the car, putting his walker into the trunk with his spare oxygen tank. This was dad’s day. He looked forward to this day every year. As a survivor of WWII, the Korean War, and Viet Nam, this was his holiday. I loaded the car with our projects and we took off. We went to the neighborhood cemetery and hunted down his friends. Strange we always had trouble finding them, it's not like they were very mobile. With a walker and oxygen dad was in better health than they were! This was the only occasion he felt complaining about his health was ungracious, walking down the rows of name plaques! He stuck little flags by the names of his service friends. Their kids had not done this, and he mumbled some unkind words about their neglecting their obligations. I think mostly he complained just to make sure I was aware that I would be held accountable for decorating his grave when the time comes. (Knock on wood that better be some time from now!)
After we finished our flag placing chore, we headed off to the main part of his celebration. The Dallas National Cemetery. It was unbelievable. No matter how much time I allow to get there the traffic is so thick inside the grounds we crawled along at a snail’s pace, by hundreds of new graves buried under blankets of fresh flowers watered with tears. Every day sees the addition of new members at a rate of 19,500 a year. Cars were parked along the route and people milled about the grounds. I caught sight of a man and woman on the grass beside a flowery decorated tombstone. The woman was crying, the man was comforting. This is a customary sight here. Some things shouldn't become customary. Flowers were all over the place. People were pushing baby strollers down rows of graves looking for their daddy or uncle or brother(or female counterparts). Flags were flying everywhere.
Closer to our destination we were directed where to park on the grass. Cars, Trucks. Vans. Motorcycles. Ambulances. TV crews. Care flight personal. Portable potties. Scads of people were heading towards the presentation sight. Dressed in shorts, slacks, uniforms, suits, dresses. Every possible combination of red, white and blue was covered. Red, white and blue on ties, t-shirts, scarves, handbags, hats, umbrellas, baby diapers, Flags lined the road every twenty feet. Hundreds of them. I wondered how much time it would take to lower them tonight. There were several tents up on center stage filled with important looking dignitaries and military personal, from every service, and a school choir dressed in green tops and beige pants or skirts. Red, white and blue drapes hung over their heads.
The ceremony started with introductions of generals, the Governor, the funeral director. Then three planes were heard approaching. Approaching. Nearer. Nearer. They were in sight now; three planes in formation flew overhead. They were punctual, precise timing. They had left their stations on the second to make a show at the correct minute, in tribute to the somber observance. I wished I had anticipated that to get a picture, I was awed by the formation and the planning. However I did get pictures. Pictures of the crowd sitting on lawn chairs, blankets on the ground, the brick wall lining the area. People with water jugs, umbrellas to shade them from the stifling heat of the sun, large protective hats. People dressed in uniforms. They must be really hot. I got a picture of my husband walking beside my dad, holding an umbrella over his head.
The presentation lasted longer than I thought it should in the middle of a hot, humid day. I worried about the old timers present. This could throw their systems out of whack. I worried about my dad. He had spent time in the emergency room once for dehydration brought on by a baseball game, but he wouldn't miss this day. We stayed ahead of things, keeping him properly hydrated, yet at the same time on the verge of dehydration to prevent congestive heart failure symptoms. Jugglers had nothing on me! It was comforting to know that ambulances and medical personal were on the grounds.
Even though,as I said before, the presentation lasted longer that I thought it should, none of these vets, their families, or relatives of the recent victims of Iraq and Afghanistan complained. They hadn't gone to the movies or the malls today. They came to honor Memorial Day properly. Those not here weren't thinking of the reason they had a three day weekend, they were enjoying a paid day off. Memorial Day meant more to those in attendance here. It meant someone died for the population to spend the day however they wanted. Not under a dictatorship. Not in a civil war. Not scrounging for food. Not part of a genocide committee. Not threatened daily with rape or casual murder.
The ceremony was concluded by a roll call of the recently interred. As the names fell on our hearts a crisply dressed serviceman placed a rose on one of several draped chairs that represented either the Navy, Army, Air force, Marines, or Coast Guards. The families were then invited to collect the rose from the chair representing their sacrifice. A rose. A rose with a thorn. The thorn would draw blood, representing the blood shed for our country.
This is the current Memorial day, but the true Memorial day started years ago. It started on a cross where a savior died for our freedoms. When I mentioned that to my dad he retorted with, "Jesus didn't die on Memorial Day!" No. Dad could only think of his fallen comrades today but maybe latter tonight he'll think of Jesus and thank him for freeing him from slavery to sin and an eternity in hell. In that case, every day should be Memorial Day.
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