In decades past, around ten in the morning on Memorial Day, the veterans of foreign wars marched down Main Street in our small town with the high school band, tractors from the local implement dealer, the mayor in a convertible, the Knights of Columbus and enough other groups to call the gathering a parade. Many came in from the surrounding farms to line the streets then follow the marchers to the fairgrounds for a town picnic.
That’s the belief system I in which grew up. The Vietnam War tested Memorial Day. Vietnam vets weren’t welcome in the feel good ceremonies. VFW posts frequently didn’t allow Vietnam vets membership for all kinds of sad reasons. Vietnam vets changed from their uniforms to street clothes before leaving the airport at discharge, were spat at on the street by anti-war protesters who confused fellow citizens with policy makers, were let go from jobs by ignorant folks who called them wicked names.
One Memorial Day weekend my employer sent me to a national editorial association meeting in New Orleans. I was young and excited about the trip, but also sad about missing our traditional holiday gathering. I asked another attendee why the conference had been scheduled on this weekend. Southern born she gave me a sixty- second history of how her family considered Memorial Day a Yankee holiday to rub defeat in the faces of Confederate states.
There have always been divisions in this large nation. Sometimes the schism is about human rights, sometimes about policies too onerous for one large group of people to accept, often about disparity in the quality of the illusive American Experience. Television was blamed for delivering the Vietnam War to families’ living rooms and for pushing the curtains back on civil injustice. Social media has the praise or curses for changing the tone of political discourse today.
What do we remember on Memorial Day?
When veterans were asked to stand during the St. Paul Saints baseball game yesterday I felt the same quiet tears begin that I’ve experienced since September 11, 2001. Old and young, male and female, they raised a hand. Shoulders were set, chests puffed, heads held proud. Rightfully so.
It would be comforting to believe these brave citizens could continue to protect our country against divisiveness within, sinking respect abroad, and the powerful war weapons of nuclear devices, digital mayhem, and men greedy for their own power.
“Life played a giant joke on those of us living unassuming lifestyles twenty years ago. When the men who played with power ordered those who played with destruction to send out their weapons, billions suffered.” — Minnesota Cold
I say that I write speculative fiction to deal with what I fear about the future. Minnesota Cold was written ten years ago about a time ten years from now.
If only everyone from Washington, D.C. to the people living in our neighborhoods can remember what we hold in common, find our way to shaking hands, and talking about a common future over a plate of picnic foods. On Memorial Day, we could honor the sacrifices of the past by building for a better future.