I find that other than a parade that seems more about children - scout troops, local bands, various sports teams - than the soldiers, in most areas Memorial Day has turned into just a day off from work, nothing terribly special, maybe the inevitable sales and the opening of summer season for pools and barbeques.
We were lucky in my family. Nobody who served failed to come back. But there are lots of families who are not so lucky, even in the last week. Soldiers go away, and there's no way to know until they do or don't whether they will come back.
There is a famous and very short poem called "In Flanders Fields" which is the source of the poppies that used to spring up like spring flowers this time of year. I remember buying them when I was a child and wearing them proudly, sometimes a small bouquet of them because I didn't want to pass by anybody who was selling one.
I remember my great-grandmother buying poppies when I was very small, telling me that we bought them to remember and honor the soldiers who had fought and died for our freedoms. I remember seeing the old men, many still fitting in their uniforms, others wearing whatever part of the uniform still fit, selling the poppies on street corners, in front of grocery stores, all over town in the week or two before Memorial Day.
You don't see them as much anymore. The number of old soldiers in the parades is dwindling. Gone are the ones from World War I, "The War to End All Wars." We are losing those from World War II, "The War After That." And the Korean War. Age is taking them from us.
We are also losing those from the Vietnam War, some due to age and some due to mental and other wounds that were not imagined in the earlier wars. I don't remember that war, but I remember reading about the returning soldiers being spit upon and shunned, and even as an adult not understanding why that could be. These were soldiers who fought to preserve freedom. Whatever else you think of them, or their war, they did not deserve to return to hatred. Maybe sadness, maybe other reactions, but not a hatred that made them wonder why they had enlisted to serve this country.
And now we have other wars: Gulf War. Afghanistan. Iraq. Other sandy places. And we have different injuries, and different deaths. Soldiers come home surviving injuries that would have killed them in an earlier war. Internal injuries, physical and emotional, that are also new to this age of IEDs and children as shields and the propaganda that tells our soldiers that the people they think they are saving, hate and want to kill them.
On Memorial Day we are supposed to remember and honour our war dead - any war, and no matter how they died. We should also remember and honour the living, who served and should know how we appreciate it before all we can do is stick a flag into the ground in front of their headstone or another memorial location, and salute it. These are people who risked their lives every day, who committed to risk their lives, often for people they don't know, and who sometimes hate them. To serve a country that sometimes dishonored them and the flag they swore to follow.
Remember our military. Thank them. Honor them.
Whether you agree with the reason for the fight, remember that these are the people who committed to the fight, who ignored their fear and sometimes walked into death, or horrific injuries, because it was their job to do so. If nothing else, honour their bravery.
My family came to this country to enjoy the freedoms our military helped obtain and preserve for us. I will always love and honor and respect and appreciate them for that.