Memorial Day may be the forgotten holiday.  Calling it a holiday even feels inappropriate.   It’s not a celebration.  It’s a day of mourning, commemoration and remembrance.  A grandmother called it Decoration Day up until her death in 1997.  It was an early name.  As a boy I can remember being by her side decorating graves.

These men wore old uniforms, had polished helmets and carried the colors.  The town police car, a fire truck and the high school band would follow.

As a boy I also remember the Memorial Day events in my hometown.  The late morning parade.  There would be tremendous anticipation and then suddenly silence.  Followed by the voice of a man calling out cadence.  It was so quiet you could hear the heels of the honor guard clicking on the bricks (later asphalt).  These men wore old uniforms, had polished helmets and carried the colors.  The town police car, a fire truck and the high school band would follow.  Scouts in uniform also marched in silence.  As the end of the parade passed, a great many people would fall in and march in the rear.

The procession would wend itself a few blocks away to a cemetery at a place called Medbury Heights.  An old veteran would speak and share thoughts about comrades he had lost.  One year, it rained cats and dogs.  There was still a crowd.  I walked home soaked.

When I grew up I wanted my daughter to know the experience.  One year, a co-host and I planted flags at the graves at a local veterans burial ground.  We took her along and she handed us the flags.  At one grave I looked at a tiny headstone.  It read “Floyd B. Schwartzwalder”.  I recognized the name.  He had once coached a national champion college football club.  He was buried in a simple grave because he wanted to be placed next to his fellow veterans.  He had served as a paratrooper in World War Two and participated in the invasion of Normandy.  Friends died that day when the liberation of Europe began.

The next year my daughter asked if we were going back to the cemetery.

There aren’t many Memorial Day ceremonies in the Magic Valley.  I remember a few years ago looking for a list and I came across only two.

Picnics are great.  Enjoy the burgers.  I’m cooking hot dogs.  I’m also taking time to remember.  Without brave Americans offering “the last full measure of devotion” there wouldn’t be a United States.  It was the point made by the man behind the quote.

 

LOOK: 100 years of American military history