Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hot Dogs, Valor and Courage

       Yay. 4-day weekend. How come? Does anyone know, remember?
       Oh. Yes. I remember.
        Memorial Day—everyone loves it--its the start of the boating season in some places, the weekend they run the Indy 500,  the weekend Oregon State Parks switch to summer rates for camping and getaways, and “the arrival of the season of entertaining. People stop thinking about blustery spring storms and start thinking about summer barbecues and picnics. Memorial Day is the perfect time to hold a backyard cookout to honor the arrival, finally, of summer. (Salem Oregon, Statesman-Journal, May 24, 2012)
       Oregon state workers enjoyed a "Furlough” day  on Friday, which means state government offices and state courts will be shut for four days over the Memorial Day holiday—of course, the Friday Furlough was without pay. Darn it. Have to work on that.
       It hasn’t always been so problematic—like what to do, cookout or camp, boat or beachcomb, party or PARTY.
       The biggest holiday weekend in May has an honorable history. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Later, in the early 20th century, it evolved into Decoration Day in many parts of the country. People began to honor their family dead, along with veterans, often trekking to family burial plots some distance away to clean-up gravesites, put flowers on the graves, and sometimes gather with family for get-togethers or picnics.  If you check around, you may find some old-timer who remembers that—Decoration Day became a solemn good time for all.
       So, what does any of this have to do with writing? It has to do with the sacrifice and valor, war and remembrance, hope and despair that either influenced, or was recorded in prose and poetry over not just decades, but centuries, by philosophers and writers.
For centuries, from Homer’s Iiliad, Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, Scotland’s plaintive song,  Loch Lomand,  down through the ages, Western poets and writers have honored soldiers fallen in battle.
       Several American books considered “classic” were written by authors who were either deeply influenced by the futility and heroism encompassed by wars, or who experienced it first-hand, and memorialized it in writing.
       Heminway, who served as a Red Cross ambulance driver in WWI, and Bradburys’ works reflect the influences of WWII, as do those of Salinger and Stienbeck, who served as a war correspondent in WWII. Even Betty Smith’s classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, incorporates the social effects of WWI.
        Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five was based upon his experiences as a POW during WWII.  Joseph Heller’s Catch-22;  Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead;  Gore Vidal’s Williwaw;  Tim O’Brien’s memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, and novel, Going After Cacciat;  Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead are all based upon first-hand military experience in war-zones.
       For those among us who consider our soldier-warriers “cannon fodder,” and/or dismiss their service as either stupidity and waste, or at best, somehow self-serving,  they may want to consider those who stepped up and ensured that we have the liberty to think and express our ideas in  a free society. Can we prove it would have been different without them? No. One cannot prove a negative—but one can by viewing the world through the lens of history. For myself, I  thank those who served and gave their lives in times past that we may celebrate a 4-day weekend in peace, and live to write about it.
                                    Flanders Fields says it well:
                                    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.
                                    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
                                    To you from failing hands we throw
                                    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
                                    If ye break faith with us who die
                                    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
                                    In Flanders fields. (John McRae, 1915)

No comments:

Post a Comment