Monday, May 26, 2014

The legacy of heroes

"The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example." -- Benjamin Disraeli

This morning, Memorial Day, I realized to my own embarrassment that I do not know where the war memorial is in my current home town. In fact, I'm not even certain one exists. I did a quick search online and couldn't really find evidence of one, but I suspect one stands in the old, decrepit cemetery on the outskirts of the local college campus where lie the bones of the town's founders and other luminaries. Chance are good that I'll take a walk later in search for it.

Dunlevy War Memorial (photo by Susan Sparks)
Such was not the case in my childhood. My little town's war memorial occupied a place of prominence and pride that I could see clearly from the porch of my mother's house. A shrine made of brick and stone, it bore the names of Dunlevy's war dead, names shared by their fathers and sons and nephews and cousins who still lived in the town. The memorial stood at the end of a long street in the "bottoms," that part of town between the railroad tracks and the river, flanked by the local barge-building enterprise on one side and the boat club and Giuseppe Garibaldi Hall on the other.

When I was young, the local military honor guard from the VFW travelled around the valley from town to town, holding services at each small memorial, paying honor to the war dead among their families and descendants. The detail always arrived in Dunlevy for services at 11 a.m., rain or shine, but I somehow remember only the days of blazing sun and brilliant blue sky. We woke up early, offered help (or more often hindrance) to the women who prepared a mid-day meal to be served to the veterans in the Garibaldi Hall after the service, shoring them up for services in other towns through the afternoon. 

I remember the sound of wind snapping the always-new-for-the-occasion American flag that hung above the memorial. I remember sizable crowds of people gathered, heads bowed in reverence, while the chaplain spoke words about honor, valor, sacrifice. I remember how I held my breath and felt my heart jump in my chest as the honor guard fired their guns -- once, twice, three times.  I remember the metallic jingle of spent shell casings falling to the pavement between rounds and how my friends would reach for them, careful not to burn their fingers. I remember, too, the sound of "Taps," played sadly, somberly, often by a local Boy Scout, my friend Paul who that day became something more than just a boy with a bugle. 

I remember the uniforms and the stories the veterans would tell as they ate lunches of ham salad sandwiches, potato salad, coffee and beer. I remember feeling connected to the past, feeling anxious about the future, wondering how many more names would find their way onto that small memorial.

It may seem weird that I grow nostalgic on Memorial Day more than on any other holiday, but my memories of that day loom large. They remind me of how much sacrifice has gone into protecting and preserving our freedom. They remind me to be grateful.

To those who gave their lives, and to the families they left behind, thank you. 

No comments:

Post a Comment