Random Thoughts of an Unabashed America Lover By Linda Athens, Kingman,, AZ Monday, May 20, 2013
Random Thoughts of Memorial Days
Random Thoughts of Memorial Days
Growing up in Kingman in the 1940s and '50s, Memorial Day was not only a special day in my Mother's family, it was a special month for that's about the length of time she and all the women in her family collected mayo jars and coffee cans to hold flowers.
And then, there were the numerous trips to Sprouse Reitz on 4th and Beale (an entrance on each street) to buy artificial flowers for permanent bouquets if you were short on fresh ones from the garden. They liked artificial. I'm thinking artificial may have been new in the market place so while mostly hideous, my family loved them. To them it was God's answer to the ever present problem of Kingman's wind blowing fresh flowers away. What God hath brought together, let not man put asunder kind of thing, they bought gobs of them. It mattered not that none had flower arranging training – and it showed – or that plastics had a long way to go in the 1940s. It was the thought, after all, and the love with which they did this annual routine.
At sunup Memorial Day morning, everyone in my family and my town met at the cemetery to decorate graves. I remember this as far back as my memory goes.
Mother's family were a quiet bunch and especially so on this morning each year. I like to think they represented most of America. Quiet in the good acts I saw them do throughout my life when no one was looking, sent their sons and brothers off to war when the need arose, rarely missed work, showed up with food and furniture if your house burned.
Actually, on Memorial Day morning, they had a special reverence about them as they gently moved from grave to grave, as if this simple task of putting flowers and flags on the graves of the war dead was of utmost importance to them. They needed to do it annually and they needed to do it right. Make sure a rock was in the bottom of each can to prevent it tipping over. There was something majestic in these simple acts they performed annually.
They knew where every grave was. This Memorial Day thing wasn't their first rodeo. I had Uncles that fought in WWII, some barely home actually. They had family that fought in the War to End All Wars. .
When very little, I didn't really understand what was going on, only that something of great import had happened and we were to treat it with great dignity and honor. That never left me.
Memorial Day started because of the Civil War and was called Decoration Day. Many towns claim to have had the first one but I have a special connection.
My great grandparents lived in Chloride because of the Civil War. My grandfather was born in Harpers Ferry, Va., at the advent of the war. The war tore his Virginia family apart so they finally left everything in Virginia and moved to northern Missouri. There my young grandfather met and later married my grandmother and after a stint in Nebraska, they ended up in White Hills and then Chloride where they lived out their lives. Far from war I suppose they thought. Him I only knew about, but her I knew well and loved. She lived to be nearly 97 and never doubted moving to Chloride was a right move in spite of leaving 15 siblings in another part of the country. Most she never saw again.
On a trip to Colorado over one Memorial Day, my husband's grandparents we observed had the same ritual my family did, only they called it Decoration Day. Same saving tins, arriving at the cemetery at dawn. Very reverent. Like thousands of other Americans back then.
As a scout leader in Texas, I took my Den and Brownie scouts to beautiful Ft. Bliss Cemetery on Memorial Day, where one can truly become overwhelmed. Every grave there received a flag by one scout or another.
When I first had grandchildren, I took them on their first Memorial Day trip to put flags on graves of soldiers unknown to us but not to God. The services were beautiful, the 62nd Army band played and the scheduled events were touching. To read the headstones and see the young ages was enough to make you weep.
As we headed through the graves, we read soldiers names, talked about where they were from, what war they fought in and why, and a general discussion about our country, my favorite topic. I told them to spread out, read the headstones, and to pick whichever grave God showed them to put their flags on.
Engrossed in my own flag business, I soon realized my little redheaded granddaughter Reagan (after Ronald Reagan) had disappeared.
I found her far off in a little group of graves with not one flag. She asked me why, and reading the headstones, I realized she had found the small section with 26 German WWII POWS who had died in captivity. While the German Air Force stationed at Ft. Bliss does commemorate them every November during their Day of Mourning, this was May and the graves looked desolate compared to the rest of the cemetery.
So I explained these were graves of WWII enemy soldiers, which explained why there were no flags. But were they enemies of God? Reagan, in her 8-year-old wisdom, wanted to know. Hmmm! I'd have to get back with her on that one. Did God love them, she then asked. Well, sure. I mean if they loved Him first. No wait. I had that backwards. He always loves us first. Unconditional love.
Finally, exasperated with my lame answers, she said, "I thought you said to let God lead us to the graves where he wanted the flags placed." I conceded that I did say that. And Reagan said, "This is where He led me to put all 12 of my flags, so this is where I am putting them."
I sat under a tree with wet eyes while I watched this beautiful little 8-year-old with tons of long red hair and the simple wisdom of the ages carefully place an American flag on each of a dozen German soldiers' graves. Somehow I knew we were a better place for her having done that. She certainly thought so. Her two cousins agreed. I know Ronald Reagan would have thought so too. Later, I told my German friend Sigrid from Stuttgart who knew her and we both cried.
Next week, I will take yet another granddaughter, a first-grader who is going into the TAG (talented and gifted) class next year, to her first Memorial Day visit to place flags on the graves of those who gave their all. I need to bone up on my history for this one. She'll ask questions, lots of them. I'll show her graves of her ancestors who fought and we'll say a prayer of safekeeping for the brother she is so proud of who is serving in the US Air Force, as my two brothers did.
And yeah, I'll probably dig out a few coffee cans and hit Walmart for some artificial flowers. Silk has replaced plastic for flower petals. Another gift from God.
God bless and keep our veterans, always my heroes.
Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Article comment by:
I totally understand your post. Flowers would have been better I agree, we just didn't have any. I couldn't handle flowers and three grandkids too and I was used to placing flags with my scouts.
First, I had no idea German POW's were buried there, had never noticed it so it took me by surprise. And it was so many years after the war, we had the German Air Force right on Ft Bliss and I had good German friends that she knew also.
But your point is well taken and I appreciate it. She was too young to explain too much to her. A little Christian, it was her first delving into war - we were barely past God loves everyone and Christ died for our sins.
Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Article comment by:
So I take it that you would be OK with German citizens putting German flags on the graves of American POW's? I understand that your granddaughter was not trying to be disrespectful but this act was, as you can see by my example, a very disrespectful act. Now, I am all for putting flowers on the graves of those soldiers but planting an American flag on them is wrong on so many levels.
Indeed though, God bless all Americans, including our veterans.