Tomorrow morning, rain or shine, we'll eat our breakfast, get dressed, and head downtown for the Memorial Day parade and ceremony. We'll watch the local Cub Scout troop walk by, the ladies dressed as a flag walking in unison, the Gold Star Mothers wave as they pass by in their car. We'll gather in front of the courthouse and listen to the high school band play the National Anthem, the local barber shop quartet sing "God Bless the USA." We'll listen to a local judge, the mayor, and a person of military interest give a speech. My children will be antsy. I'll hush them. They'll ask for another lollipop from the bag they used to collect the tossed out candy along the parade route. I'll oblige if only to keep their mouths quiet, busy.
Because I want them to be a part of this, even if they don't understand the depth of Memorial Day just yet.
I want them to attend with us every year so that slowly, surely, the meaning behind a day that the rest of society seemingly uses as an excuse to picnic and barbecue seeps into their understanding. So that as they someday pass the potato salad on the last Monday in May, they will know that their grandfather's namesake, his uncle, died during World War II.
Pennsylvania, Beaver/Bedford, Swearingen D V Jr. -- This is the first time I've ever seen this record. I cried.
So that they will remember people like my friend Jess's brother, Cpl Matthew Wallace, who died in Germany after injuries sustained in Iraq back in 2006. My oldest son was just a baby, and I remember thinking even then, "I will tell him Matthew's story as he grows."
Even if our family and friends hadn't been affected in such ways, I'd take them so that they could understand the Veterans who also march in the parade do so not to seek recognition for themselves, but to deflect that recognition back on the lives lost, the friends lost.
It remains my secret-idealist (don't tell anyone, it will ruin my reputation) hope that by the time my children reach adulthood, wars and the devastating loss they cause will be nothing but a memory of their parents' generation. That they won't watch the news in the evening with their children and bumble along to find the words to explain war, hatred, power, loss. That the future will be safer, peaceful.
The cynical realist in me doubts all of that. But no matter what the future holds—peace, war, uncertainty, love—I want my sons to understand that we did not end up here without the loss of many who came before, without their sacrifice. Whatever my belief on war as a whole, it remains part of our history. The loss of the men and women means that brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, husbands and wives were lost, leaving people at home grieving.
And that is why I'll stand next to my boys, shoveling candy in their mouth, silently giving thanks.
This remains one of the things I want to teach my sons: to remember, to honor, to respect, to think for just a moment of the sacrifices made before passing that potato salad across the table. One lesson in a million lessons, but an important one.
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