Listening Post: A day to remember

Soldier waits his turn to speak at Memorial Day observances in Canton. Archive Photo of the Day (5/26/09) by Lizette Haenel

Soldier waits his turn to speak at Memorial Day observances in Canton. Archive Photo of the Day (5/26/09) by Lizette Haenel

Monday is Memorial Day, and this weekend is the traditional beginning of the summer vacation season. It might be time to open camp for the season, to put in the boat, to have the first barbecue of the year, or (if you are so fortunate) to do all three.

Memorial Day is also, of course, a solemn civic holiday devoted to remembering our soldiers who died in war. It was initiated as a national occasion three years after the end of the Civil War and was then called Decoration Day, after the traditional observance of visiting and decorating soldier cemeteries.

I recall it as a major celebration in Potsdam when I was a child, and memories of the great national struggle of WW II were still fresh in the minds of its veterans, the survivors of the fallen, and the civilians who sacrificed to the war effort. Somewhere I still have a shell casing ejected from one of the M-1 rifles fired in salute over the Raquette River at the end of each year’s parade. Schoolboys like me, fascinated with the uniforms, the guns, and the war stories always scrambled in to get the prized brass.

The holiday may be less well-observed now. I think that’s a natural consequence when today, most people are more distant from the experience of war. Wars such as the Civil War and the two World Wars left few families untouched, and no communities unaffected. The wars of the last few decades have not been as all-absorbing to the nation, except of course to the relatively small percentage of Americans who have fought and died in them, and the families who love and support them. But for most of us, it has been possible to go about our business as usual.

I can’t say that this is a bad thing; who would wish our wars to have been bigger? Yet memory is strongest where you have some skin in the game. Fewer of us may feel that immediacy now. Despite my good fortune in never having to experience war face to face, I try to take a little time to remember the skin and kin of mine who have. My father and his brothers and cousins who all survived WWII somehow, though not unchanged. Or my childhood neighbors, disabled by trench warfare nearly a century ago now. My mother, who cranked out tungsten in a defense plant, or my college classmates still haunted by the jungles of Vietnam.

Who will you be remembering on Monday and why? Let us know in a comment below.

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4 Responses to “Listening Post: A day to remember”

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  1. Stevie Michaelson says:

    I have very vivid memories of Memorial Day parades when I was in a marching band in small town Wisconsin. It was always hot by then and we had a little bandstand in the middle of town. My dad was o ne of the local ministers so often gave the speech in honor of the day. One year our dog followed him downtown and when the military gun salute went off, she took off for home as if she had been shot out of a cannon ! Nothing still, moves me like watching veterans of all ages, in uniform solemnly marching and I tear up, as I did even as a 12 year old, to wonder of their memories when taps was played.

  2. Bob Falesch says:

    I think of Studs and his daily programs on WFMT, the radio companion of my youth and early adulthood. His shows for the holidays were always extra special, including of course his Memorial Day broadcast. This is from http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/tag/studs-terkel/

    “…I say talk radio for the benefit of younger readers who think this term only refers to the bigots, shock jocks, and fools who pollute our public airwaves these days—the kind of talk that, in pretending to be the voice of the average Joe and Jane, plays to the worst in us and diminishes us. The Studs Terkel Program really was the voice of the average Joe and Jane, and I mean that quite literally. Studs often broadcast interviews with people on the street, in the taverns, on the train—not those who might have hitched a ride on John McCain’s so-called Straight Talk Express, but rather those going to the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, opening his show with the Woody Guthrie song “Bound for Glory.” His interviews could break your heart, such as the one he conducted through an interpreter of a Japanese victim of the nuclear bombing of World War II. They could remind you of why we celebrate certain holidays such as with his annual Memorial Day (always called Armistice Day by Studs) and Labor Day shows. He would read short stories, play music, read scenes with actors and actresses who had come to the WFMT studios to talk about and promote their plays opening in town. If you wanted to know not just what was going on in town among visiting and local performers, but also hear the performers and creators talk about the work, you had to listen to Studs. I remember going to a sparsely attended screening of Robert Altman’s Secret Honor and finding out that like I, most of the audience had heard about it from Studs.”

    I couldn’t find his Memorial Day show online, but for anyone who wants the flavor of a Studs Terkel special program, the very famous “This Train” should do nicely:
    http://kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/43/243/2B-F3-153-63-terkel-a0a1i9-a.mp3

  3. Bob Falesch says:

    Oh, sorry — I thought that was the entire show. Must do more digging….

  4. Brandon Amo says:

    On this Memorial Day, as on previous ones, I will have my father, a WWII US Marine, in my thoughts.
    Shortly after 9-11, we sat down, and talked about his experiences.
    To say he saw action would be true, but he saw it upclose and personal.
    he was in it up to the gunwales, in the southern Pacific, meeting the enemy face-to-face on several islands, including major action on Guadalcanal.
    Luckily, I had a tape recorder running, and after 60 years, he told a tale of horror, honor, and survival.
    He returned to his beloved Ogdensburg after the war, and spent his life going about his business of raising a family and contributing to the community.
    A true American hero, as a warrior and as a civilian, and a wonderful role model.
    He had his demons, and they were evident, percolating just below the surface. As they say, there are no combat veterans without disability.
    I remember, before and after our discussion, the opportunities we had to talk, but he only hinted at the nonsense and waste of war.
    Therefore, on this Memorial Day, I will have my father on my mind. And the lessons he tacitly passed along. And I will consider the nonsense and waste of war, and will contemplate a planet without that nonsense and waste.