As a little girl, it was Decoration Day. Mother took us out to pick what flowers might have ventured out in the spring. There were snowballs, bridle wreath, peonies, and sometimes we would walk in the hills to pick wild flowers. Lilies of the Valley were a favorite, but they were not very suitable for bouquets for the cemetery. It seemed that everyone celebrated the day. There was music and speeches and reminders. We saw all the flags and knew what they meant.
When I started to play an instrument, Memorial Day was a day of participation. Our school band marched from the high school to the cemetery to play for the ceremonies. It only seemed far when it was hot. We complained a little, but we were proud to participate. There were speeches about remembering the price paid by those who laid in the graves under the flags. We were admonished to remember they paid the price for our freedom.
During college days I was finished with the quarter and was home for Memorial Day. Didn’t have to play in the band, but the rest of the activities were much the same as prior years. The graves were decorated, the flags flew proudly on the graves of the veterans. and we were taught to never walk on a grave.
By Memorial Day in 1943, I had joined the Navy. You didn’t need much reminding; you were becoming a veteran. We were busy adjusting to military life. No parade for the new recruits except on the parade ground. The next year, 1944, I participated in parades as a proud officer in the United States Navy.
There was great respect for those of us in uniform. But I remember other Memorial Days when veterans were despised and ridiculed for fighting in an unpopular War. There were patriotic voices who continued to remember, but the voices of the antagonists were loud and nasty. Many young people, and others, were caught between what they were taught at home and the terrible scenario playing out in our culture. My sons lived that battle. The draft lottery loomed above the heads of all the young men. These were difficult Memorial Days.
And today, 2014, I can listen to local celebrations. I can hear the President or various dignitaries give “laud and honor” to our veterans while the constant reminders of the scandals occupy the news. Those of us who raised our hands and pledged to serve our country find the pledges of those who do the promising are not bound by the same honor. They can make their speeches and walk away to forget what is really happening in the places designated “to take care of us.” Even the President can make all kinds of pledges, promises, and show consternation about the problems, but he doesn’t face a captain’s mast or a court martial if he doesn’t keep his pledges. Veterans did and those who serve still do. The President can make a quick trip to the “front.” It’s a great photo op to stand in front of troops who are actually fighting and pledge to give them all they need to do battle and all they have earned when they come home. In the meantime, the lists go on, the monopolistic civil service health care system for veterans continues.
This Memorial Day there are waiting lists, secret lists, and I can’t even get on a list because I didn’t get into the system before the Iraq War when they instituted a “means” test. Sounds fair, but talk to the veterans who can’t meet the crazy gross income means test. Nobody asked what my gross income was when I joined the service. Nobody told me when I joined the veterans ranks that I better not works hard, or be too successful if I wanted to collect my veteran health benefits.
Interesting Memorial Day, this one in 2014. We are still sort of at War. The indignation at what is happening to veterans is greater than I have ever seen. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is under rapid fire; he has been in all kinds of fights before. But this General had people who pledged to serve their country in his command. Should they forget their pledge, he had the tools of military justice handy. He has no tools; he has civil service. People can mismanage, commit fraud, disregard their duty, deny access to those they are supposed to serve, be lazy, treat their charges with disrespect and callous, and get a bonus. ;’
I hope by next Memorial Day that whoever is in charge of watching out for our veterans will have the tools to get rid of those who don’t care, who are protected no matter what they do, and those who just plain forget.