Friday, May 28, 2004

The Meaning of Memorial Day

What is the purpose of Memorial Day? Is it supposed to be a day to remember those who served in the armed forces, or is it a larger and broader day of remembrance? Either way, it's never held much meaning for me.

I was born in 1965, in the midst of the Vietnam war. My parents were born in 1944 and 1945, at the tail end of World War II. No one in my family has ever served in the military. But I do remember my parents fearing war. My mom, it seemed to me at the time, was very spooked by the Iran hostage crisis. What was that - 1979/1980? And the launch of the Gulf war in 1990 - my parents were glued to the television in what may have been the first time that there was live, on-the-spot coverage as troops went in. And they were worried that my younger brothers would be drafted (which, of course, did not happen).

When I was in high school in the early 1980s, kids did one of three things:

1) you went on to college
2) you stuck around, got a job and maybe started a family
3) you joined the military

It was pretty much in that order (okay, maybe 1 and 2 were reversed or evenly split). Joining the military was seen as a last resort. Someone who didn't have any goals or ambition in life joined the armed forces - it was a last resort to becoming a drug dealer or similar menace to society.

So I think it's interesting that some of my high school classmates are now making a big fuss about "Joe." Joe was in the reserves, I believe, and he has been in Iraq for at least the last 10 months. Joe was a police officer or sheriff deputy in his home town. He returned in late April/early May, and there is a move afoot to rally round him and his family this weekend. Those who are on the email list have all been invited to return to ye olde home town and take Joe and his family out to dinner.

Yes, I remember Joe and he seemed like a nice guy. But no one ever made a big deal about him in high school. Why the fuss now? Don't get me wrong - I am not knocking Joe or the military and I'm not anti-American or anything like that. I just don't get it. I don't get people my age, the kids I grew up with, suddenly becoming raving patriots. Because they just weren't that way 20 years ago.

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