Yesterday we marked Memorial Day weekend with a family backyard barbeque; it's an annual tradition. This year we had four different generations at our gathering, representing every generation from the Silent Generation
to the Millennials
Since every guy at our gathering had some form of military experience (former U.S. Navy
officer, former enlisted U.S. Navy, and current U.S. Army ROTC
), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig deeper. So I decided to take a busman’s holiday
by asking questions
of each generation.
, of course.
I started off by putting my foot in my mouth – by asking if the members of the Silent Generation had any memories of seeing Civil War veterans at Memorial Day parades in their youth.
(Note to self – do not tick off the cook by insinuating he is older than dirt.)
I quickly backtracked, suggesting that I meant World War I (though I still think it is theoretically possible that Civil War veterans were around in the 1940s, this was not an argument worth winning while dinner was cooking on the barbeque).
After some chatter about experiencing Memorial Day parades in small towns, we segued to a discussion about the significance of red poppies on Memorial Day. This led to some conjecture as to the author of the poem, In Flanders Field
, which I was pretty sure had some reference to poppies, even though I couldn’t remember anything more than the title.
I suggested Rupert Brooke
(right era, right war, wrong poet) but a quick trip to Google proved me wrong. (Not Rupert Brooks, but Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD
of the Canadian Army, in case you were wondering).
In the past, the librarian and the professor in the family would have traipsed over to the study, pulled out various volumes of poetry, and spent some time trying to find the answer, stumbling across other interesting information along the way, reading snippets of poetry out loud to the rest of the family.
Today, we simply walk over to the laptop in the kitchen, google a phrase, and retrieve the answer.
I’m old enough that I’m not sure this is an improvement.
Then again, linking one's way through the internet can also yield some interesting gems, such as the fact that poppies, as wildflowers, strew seeds through fields. When these fields became battlefields, the dirt churned up by soldiers' trampling brought more seeds to the surface, resulting in a field of red poppies and leading John McCrae to pen these lines:
In Flanders' Field
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
So, after some banter about the challenges of affixing red poppies to marching band instruments for Memorial Day parades, and some somber words about fallen soldiers who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, the conversation about Memorial Day petered out.
We sorted ourselves by gender and generation – to wash dishes, watch the NBA playoffs, and play World of Warcraft
But I kept thinking about the significance of Memorial Day – through dinner and dessert and dishes and the drive home.
I thought about Private Lori Piestewa
, a third generation soldier, Hopi Indian
, and the first American Indian woman killed in combat while serving with the U.S. Military. She’s been memorialized in a few ways – her name has been given to a peak in the Phoenix Mountain range and the organizers of the Grand Canyon Games have remembered her with the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games
But Lori Piestewa is never far from my thoughts because her story is included in a textbook
I use to teach Moral Philosophy every term. The context is whether women should be in allowed in combat.
I’ve always thought that there are some ideas and ideals worth dying for. My list may vary from yours, but I’d wager that most folks have a list of some things for which they’d consider giving their lives. The argument that we women, by virtue of our sex, should be exempt from this sacrifice (in a military context) has never convinced me.
Granted, war is a terrible thing. And still, the enormity
of combat does not detract from the sacrifices that so many have made.
To give one’s life in support of an ideal, be it freedom
, or the potential for liberty
, is noble.
On this Memorial Day Monday, consider taking a few minutes of your time to reflect upon on those who died fighting and what they died for.
Image credit: detail from "Oriental Poppies
", Georgia O'Keefe, 1928, silkscreen