Happy Memorial Day weekend. I usually overdo it with my rememberances so please just bear with me. I love Memorial Day. I love the sound of Rolling Thunder and I love to grab hold of that American feeling and hold it as tightly as I can. I love a weekend that forces us to say thank you to those who are dead and gone and were it not for this national day of thanksgiving, might be forgotten. I love the PBS Memorial Day tribute on Sunday nights each Memorial Day weekend. I like that Memorial Day forces me to think and yes, shed a few tears. I owe it to my country.
People sometimes confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. I think that is a forgivable sin, actually. Memorial Day grew out of Decoration Day, which started during the Civil War to honor those who had fallen. Many boys were buried in far off states and the good people of the towns where they lay cleaned up the graves and decorated with flowers on Decoration Day.
In Virginia, perhaps they weren’t as charitable at northern grave sites except they thought of their own sons, husbands brothers, fathers and uncles lying in some distant land and suddenly, it didn’t matter whose side the soldier had been fighting for.
I would like to thank my dad, a vet who made it home from WWII, for teaching me to remember those who have fallen, not just on Memorial Day, but every day. It’s hard to go through Virginia without passing one of the many cemeteries lined with Civil War dead. There is a particular one, on route 250 as you head into Staunton where I first learned about recognition- Staunton National Cemetery.
My grandparents lived in Staunton when I was a kid and we went over there a lot. Every time we passed that one spot, my father removed his hat and uttered the words, “buddies.” It was a ritual. For years I just thought of the place as “buddies.” Finally I think I asked. My father told me it was a cemetery where there were northern troops buried. I remember asking him why he spoke to them because we were Confederates. (my mother’s influence, not his) He said you do that for all war dead. They are Americans.
It’s hard to get through Virginia without speaking to the buddies. It seems they are everywhere. Perhaps it is that I have spent many years in Fredericksburg and Manassas where thousands have fallen. I just know that I don’t pass those cemeteries now without thinking “buddies” in my head, in honor of Walt who made sure I learned to do the right thing. It’s funny what you remember as a kid.