May 31, 2011

A Challenge for Next Memorial Day

We didn't ignore Memorial Day in the House of Boudicca. I just got overrun by Algebra II and didn't have time to sit down and download all my photos.

One of the catalysts to my starting this blog was Memorial Day. I'm in a women's organization that attended a large gathering every year at a local cemetery. There was a wreath laying ceremony where the announcer would announce the organizations who in turn had a representative step forward and place their wreath in front of a large Memorial. There were Patriotic organizations, Nam Knights, various VFWs, Korean Veterans, Officer groups, Enlisted groups, Paratrooper groups... typically 60-80 groups in all.

We had amazing teen aged voices sing the Star Spangled Banner, it was emcee'd by a local broadcaster, the Marines would be there typically shaking the hands of older Marines now wheelchair bound, JROTC units handed out poppies, amazing speakers, hot dogs and cold waters, and we'd all sit under a big white tent with our red white and blue fans, trying to keep off the heat of the day. (I found a link to a flyer!)

Bag pipes started the festivities and... for a few years we had a WWI Veteran.

It was amazing.

I remember sitting there seven years ago thinking, "This... is fantastic. I wish everyone could experience this. I would so blog this..." It was my fourth year in attendance... and I was still amazed.

And hence this blog was born.

A few years ago, the organizer and true gusto of it all passed away. And... everything came to a standstill. A National Veteran's Cemetery opened in a city called Lantana and everything moved there.

It's not that Lantana is too far... but it's too far and the event is so large that you now have to park way out yonder and take a bus to the event. Not only couldn't I bring myself to do it, but the elderly ladies I am friends with are in no shape to make the drive, get on a bus, and then make the hike.

Besides... the Veterans at our old cemetery didn't go anywhere. They were still there... but not with the acknowledgment they used to get... and still deserved.

Last year I was speaking to a girlfriend of mine about this, a retired Navy Commander, mother of two teenagers and kind of my Mom-Mentor. Her son is one year older than my eldest, so I ask her a lot of questions. She told me she had taken the kids to the cemetery we used to go to that past Memorial Day, and they did their own thing.

So last year I started planning with one of my older friends (she's 80) about going to our old haunt (no pun intended) to do our own thing. Three weeks ago we decided to do it on a Saturday (Sundays and Mondays were too difficult for all of them) at 4:00 (after the heat), I'd bring water, chairs and get a wreath, and she would bring silk flowers.

I ended up buying some too... red silk flowers, a bundle at the dollar store was $5, cutting them off the bunch with wire cutters, got us 300 flowers for probably $20.

I went to the florist and explained our situation. Wreaths the size I wanted were $400. I finally said, "I can't spend that much. Let me have this 10" wreath... I'm doing my own personal Memorial Day service at the Cemetery with some friends. One of them is a Retired Army General, he was a Tank Commander under Patton. He can't put flowers on graves... but he can lay a wreath..."

And with that, he said, 'No. Let me see what I can do. You will love what I put together... for the price of what you want a 10" wreath."

I picked it up and it was an ENORMOUS red and white wreath... and he provided the stand so the General wouldn't have to bend and so the flowers wouldn't get crushed.

We arrived... my entire family, my one girlfriend brought scripture, my other girlfriend brought her husband, one son and daughter in law, and her three grandchildren, and my other girlfriend arrived with her husband, the General, and he spoke to us about Memorial Day and what it meant to him.

I had never thought of what Memorial Day meant from HIS perspective, the perspective of a man who had to send young men into battle, on missions, where they would not come back. He told stories about the men he lost, the personal letters he wrote back to their parents, the reactions... the events that happened to him through their families... even 60 years later.

Families do not recover from the loss of a soldier/airman/sailor. When you send your son or daughter off to War, the worst thing imaginable is that they will not come back.

It is the unthinkable.

Yet is happens.

He spoke of visiting Omaha Beach and of grave sites of men who fought under him. He remembered... all their names. All of them. He is in his 90s now... and he remembered... all... of... their... names.

We had the children and grandchildren take the flowers to the marked Veteran's graves. Someone had taken the time to mark the Marines, so I tasked Mr. T with making sure that every Marine's grave was marked while we made our way through the rest of the tombstones.

We didn't have enough flowers.

Next year, I want to make it bigger. We met at the Memorial, had the wreath placed there, listened to an amazing man as he spoke of liberating Ohrdruf, said some prayer, and enjoyed each other's company. To me, it was the perfect Memorial Day celebration.

I challenge others to call their cemeteries next year and find out... What can you do on your own? I'd never thought about it if JD hadn't told me what she did with her kids. If we all took the time... can you imagine?

This is but one grave... the small red flower is what we placed.
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And another...
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In this picture, as we looked out amongst the stones with the flags and single red flowers, my girlfriend said to me, as she took my arm, "Look... look at the difference a small group of people can make."

Memorial Day 2011.jpg

And bigger still... little red flowers next to flags.

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This is a picture of my friend and her husband leaving. There will not be many more Memorial Days, although I joked with him that with his recent hip replacement he may be good for another 93 years. He laughed and said, "Just a few more would be good..."

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And you know whose memoirs I'd really like to read? Hers. She was with him every step of the way. She tells me stories of having her own uniform (no insignia) and a jeep running through Germany, post-war. She tells me of running escape routes in the event things went bad so she could escape with their children. She is just as fascinating.

We're not just losing our Veterans... we're losing their wives, whose stories are just as amazing.

It was the best Memorial Day Celebration I've ever attended. I think we'll do it again next year... and I want it bigger.

Posted by Boudicca at May 31, 2011 06:02 AM

we need to talk... my sister and mom did some stuff at barancas...

Posted by: vwbug at May 31, 2011 08:38 PM

I would love to hear their stories as well. If it is not too much of an intrusion, you could interview them on video. The stories they could tell are so much more interesting then what is in the history books.

Posted by: AC at May 31, 2011 09:49 PM

haha so it was you! It looked great! and by the way ... we never have enough flowers either! What you did was awesome! Thank you!

Posted by: jd at June 1, 2011 08:47 AM

We took the girls to their first Memorial Day service this year. Since Doug was Soldier of the Year when he was in Desert Storm he knows all sorts of military history. I, however, had never heard the history of Taps before. After hearing the story, the words written for the music and then hearing that lone bugle, I couldn't help but she'd silent tears. Posting tribute to our fallen warriors is the very least we can do...

Posted by: Jody at June 1, 2011 09:10 AM

What a wonderful "new" tradition you are starting. So glad I stopped by to see your photos of the day!

Posted by: Peggy K at June 1, 2011 11:29 AM

You are just flat effin' amazing!

Posted by: Jean at June 1, 2011 06:02 PM

I'm embarrassed to admit I had never previously attended a Memorial Day celebration prior to this year. We were invited by one of my high school friends up to south of Birmingham, AL. After her BIL was KIA in Afghanistan 2 years ago, she got very involved in her local VFW (hubby is a Navy vet) and the Alabama Veteran's Initiative. AL has a brand new national cemetery, just 3 years old. It's gorgeous and has something like 900 interred there now. People are having their loved ones relocated to this new cemetery.

We attended the wreath laying.

This is something I plan to blog about when I am back home. I took so many pictures.

It's time I look into what goes on in Orlando. And shame on me for never doing this before.

Posted by: wRitErsbLock at June 2, 2011 11:11 PM