Between white crosses, row on row
That mark our place. And in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
‘Scarce heard amidst the guns below.
—From “In Flanders Fields” John McCrae
Today Memorial Day falls on Memorial Day. I suspect most people don’t remember that the last Monday in May is not the date of Memorial Day, but the observance. May 30 is officially Memorial Day. It started as an attempt to encourage reconciliation between various factions left following the United States’ Civil War/War Between the States. After WWI it became America’s version of Remembrance Day. Later, when federal three-day weekends became “a thing,” it shifted from a fixed date to the last Monday in May. Some people still observe both, taking the Monday as a holiday and attending public ceremonies, and holding personal observances on the 30th.
I grew up in a family where my father, uncle, and granduncles all served in the military. We were blessed because we were never a gold-star family on either side, although one of my uncles left something in Europe with Patton and refused to speak of what he’d seen. For my readers not familiar with US traditions, a blue star hung in the window showed that you had a family member on active duty with the military. A gold star meant that they had been killed. Back in 2000 or so I recall attending a Memorial Day observance where the speaker voiced the hope that when the last of the Gold Star mothers present passed away, there would be no more ever (because we had never had another combat casualty). Alas, the world did not cooperate.
Memorial Day is not about veterans. Memorial Day is about the dead. Until nations shall no longer lift up sword against nation, as long as men (and women) are willing to protect that which they hold dear, there will be gold stars and fresh markers on Memorial Day.
“Far called, our Navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire.
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.
Lord G-d of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.” R. Kipling “The Recessional”