When I was young and celebrating Decoration Day, I never realized the gift I had been given. School had just ended, but our high school band would still play on Decoration Day. We would march to the cemetery from the high school to participate in the Day’s activities. It was hot, and we complained a lot. But when we entered the cemetery we knew reverence was expected of us. We knew the flags represented special people from our community who had ” gone to war.” It never occurred to me that one day I would proudly wear the uniform of the United States Navy. I left my first teaching job in 1942 in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to “go to war.
I would not experience the horrors of the battle fields, the solemnness of burying a comrade at sea, the horrible sight of a kamikaze pilot diving on my ship, or the unknown future from one day to the next. I never experienced being aboard a ship when all I knew was that I was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
Women were not allowed to “go over seas.” Only nurses wee allowed to do that. The women with whom I served would have been willing to do so; it was a topic of conversation often with us. So we served where we could. We certainly were on the front lines of information about War. We heard first hand what was happening to our shipmates. We would hear about the Pacific Island battles. Yes, we heard about the terrible casualties and always the successes.
I watched the ceremony today at Arlington National Cemetery. The laying of the wreath at the tomb of the Unknown, the prayers, the music, taps, and the remarks of the President and others. It was indeed a Memorial Day celebration. It truly was about all who have died protecting our precious freedoms, but it was more. It was about every single one, a person with a name, a home town, a mother and father, siblings, dreams, and courage beyond most of us. It was about the loved one, the athlete, the sparkling eyes, the letters home, and the knock on the door telling those who remained at home that their loved one wasn’t coming home. Every single one had the same flag next to their individuality on their grave marker–private or general, seaman or admiral, young and mature, and now women or men. Each heard again the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, the President, their military bosses, the prayers for peace, pand finally,Taps.