When I was young, even before my memory took hold in my mind, Memorial Day was a Holiday that was to be spent in Blue Springs, Missouri at my Aunt Mabel and Uncle Dan's house. It started mid morning when we would start packing the car up for the trip to that town east of Kansas City. There would be dishes of food that my mother had prepared both the night before and earlier that day. Depending upon the dish, they would either be carefully set in the trunk of the car or decided to have one of us kids hold it on our lap for the long drive out there. It was the day that we gathered our baseball gloves and catcher's mitt and a baseball and place them in the trunk just as carefully as the food was placed there.
Upon arrival at Aunt Mabel's place, we would get out of the car and see people that we had probably not seen since the previous Memorial Day. My great Aunts Oley, Mabel, Cora Lee, and Mary who were my grandmother's sisters would all be there. The only great Aunt missing most of the time would be Aunt Irene. My dad's siblings Aunt Fay and Aunt Norva and my Uncle Jim would be there along with their families, my cousins. Every once in a while my Aunt Velma would make it although she and her husband, my Uncle Duane, tended to save their trips back home for Christmas. Other relatives that I did not know even though I probably saw them every year would be there and as the crowd began to stabilize in size, the day's activities would begin.
The men and would set up out back and after a little bit of horse shoes clanging on metal stakes, the important thing would start. The baseballs and ball gloves came out of every car parked in that driveway and the sound of leather popping into leather could be heard a block away as the men played catch and talked. Us kids would play catch off to the side of the adults and our gloves did not pop as loud but it was what was to be done on Memorial Day before lunch.
After sitting under the large tree in the front yard and eating as one big family, cars would be loaded with people to drive the short distance to the Blue Springs Cemetery. The Clark family had a family plot there and flowers were taken out to be placed on each of the graves.
The only grave that I could make a connection to in my mind was my Grandfather Clark's. It was strictly a mental connection though. Perhaps a spiritual connection would describe it better. I never knew my Grandfather and he never knew me. He died when my dad was a child and so to me, my grandfather on the Clark side of my family consisted of a small piece of granite with his name on it as well as the dates indicating his life span. Dad would take me to other markers and I would hear stories from family members about some of the names indicating who was buried there. There were more than a few of the markers with little American flags stuck in the ground beside the markers. These were relatives of mine that had served in the Armed Forces of the United States. I can't remember if any of them died while active in the service, but my memory does seem like there were a few.
After we visited the cemetery it was back to Mabel's to finish eating, clean up, and then head back home for a quiet evening and the beginning of summer. Those are the memories of a little child up until probably a sixteen year old when I started to realize what Memorial Day was really about.
When I was sixteen, the war in Vietnam had been escalating and had become an item that led off and closed out each news cast by Walter Cronkite on a daily basis. At the end of each broadcast, Cronkite would give us the toll of those injured and those killed from both the American and South Vietnam troops as well as the Viet Cong numbers of killed and injured. It seems like this was part of the news each day every day of my life. It was as standard of a part of the CBS news as the scores of various sporting events were of the local news.
Looking back it was about this time that I kind of got a sense of the enormity of the war across the ocean. It was also around this time when I started seeing older kids at the church start to go off to war. Each year they would hold a draft, which was like a lottery where they would pull days of the year and in the order the days were pulled, if that was your birthday, that would be the order in which you were sent to Vietnam. I started to watch the draft to see where October 13 was in the order of things. I was lucky though. President Nixon ended the draft before my time came due, but that didn't mean the war was over or that the killing in the world had come to an end.
The Vietnam war did eventually end, but it was followed by other wars. In between the wars there were skirmishes, in between the skirmishes there were events and I came to realize, along with my education in history, that conflicts between nations, or religions, or races never did seem to stop.
As I entered into my adult life I realized that Memorial Day was set aside to honor those who served our country. The American people took advantage of the situation to decorate and remember others that had gone before, but basically it was to recognize those in the military.
As I came to know the ways of the world and our country I realized there were two days that our country recognized the military. Veteran's Day was set aside to thank and honor ALL of the men and women who had served the country by going into the service. Memorial Day however, is set aside to honor, and remember those who died while in the service of their country and there are so many to be honored.
I take both Veteran's Day and Memorial Day very seriously. It is the men and women who are honored on these two days that allow me to write anything I want here on this blog. It is by their service that American's everywhere can make choices. America still has a long ways to go in assuring equality for everyone in this country, but we work at it and we are able to work at it because of those who fight and are ready to defend this country from having those rights taken away.
It is also because of those that served that has allowed people around the world to at least have a chance at knowing what it is like to live in a free society.
Memorial Day should be one of the most sacred and spiritual days we as Americans mark as a country. From the pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary war all the way to the wars we fight today, men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice. We must not forget that there have been many others who gave their lives while wearing the uniform of the United States Military that were not involved in a war per se', but have been killed while defending embassies and military posts stationed around the world. There have even been some who have given their lives on the soil of this great nation, some on military bases where they served. It seems like the killing is an endless event without a break. It never really ends.
Take moment today, just a moment, to think of all of the lives since the beginning of this nation up until the year 2014. Give homage and honor to all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to serve the people of this great nation.
And to those who wear the uniform today of the United States Military and put yourselves in harm's way for the people of this country, thank you, and be careful out there and may God bless you all.