Memorial Day – 2016
Clam Lake WI – We awoke this morning with blue, nearly cloudless skies, a warm sun working to take off the chill of the night in the forest. Peering through the trees from our cabin, the water below is as blue as the sky it reflects. Earlier, the lake had been calm, its reflections from the trees from the other side so precisely mirroring the view; now a slight ripple on the water distorts the reflection.
Later this morning, the small band of area veterans will gather in our small Northwoods hamlet to march to the acre-sized local cemetery where there will be a brief speech or two, a nondenominational reflection by the priest who serves our mission chapel and a 21-gun salute, followed by taps – two trumpet players with one located at the outer side of the park to echo the notes of the nearest player.
The small gathering, old, fragile men holding canes (some wearing baseball caps, noting their Navy ship or Army and Marine units), well-fed middle-aged men and woman and impatient toddlers, will stand in silence for a few moments to honor the dead of past wars.
We will think of Rich, our dear friend of nearly 50 years, who died several years ago at age 93 and is buried here. As skilled and finicky a carpenter that ever was, Rich lived his entire life in this backwoods area, except for the time in the Army during World War II. Only in the later years of his life did he relate to me the horrors of participating in four landings on South Pacific islands during World War II. Of his own fear and his killing of Japanese soldiers while the chief of the machine gun crew he led. While others would brag of their own service the bar of the resort he and his wife once owned, he would walk away, never disclosing his own true heroism. (It was only after his death that we learned he received a top medal for bravery.)
The scene at the Clam Lake cemetery, of course, will be replicated in every town, city and hamlet throughout the land.
This day should provide us with meaning, not mere pomp and circumstance. It’s not enough to puff up our chests and proclaim how great our nation is. Let’s not be sunshine patriots.
Mostly, this day should remind us of how widely devastating war is. The impact of our 20th and 21st century wars is shown by the fact that nearly every community has a War Memorial listing the young men and women who were killed in those conflicts. And, we in the United States have never had to face death in any numbers as terrible as those suffered by the peoples in Europe in World War II, by the Vietnamese, Laotians and others in the Vietnam Conflict and more recently by the Iraqis and Afghans in the current continuing fighting in the Mideast.
This is not a plea for “peace at any cost;” sometimes conflict may be needed, but the lesson must be that war comes “as a last resort.” Conflicts that begin small have a tendency to escalate into terrible long-lasting and devastating events that go on and on. (Witness that World War I began over the assassination of a minor monarch in Sarajevo in 1914.)
Today we have a major Presidential candidate promising to “make America great again” by means not quite outlined. He wins great huzzahs when he intones how he’d take care of our world-wide crises. We must not blindly succumb to such bombast. If such boastful declarations mean dropping bombs or unleashing our military might, the consequences could be too terrible to imagine.
We will celebrate Memorial Day in this peaceful forest hopeful that the memory of our dead soldiers, sailors, marines and others will provide us with the knowledge to look for peaceful means to resolve our conflicts. Ken Germanson – May 30, 2016