Memorial Day 2013

Oak Tree and Flag at the Cemetery
Oak Tree and Flag

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— In May 2011 I wrote a post on Blog for Iowa that represents my thoughts about Memorial Day. This morning’s rainy forecast brought no new ideas on the topic, so read it there if you have an interest. It’s my best offering regarding our war dead, whose lives we remember today.

The American Legion ceremony is at nine o’clock. The flags at Oakland Cemetery have been flying in anticipation since Saturday. Each flagpole bears a plaque with the name of a deceased local veteran. For the first time, as a trustee of the cemetery on Memorial Day, I feel I should attend. At our recent board meeting there was discussion about the landscaping service preparing the grounds, although these things seem to take care of themselves in rural Iowa once the contract is let. Yesterday the cemetery looked ready for the expected crowd from the highway.

As years pass, the unchanging order of service and empty language have eroded my interest in the local legion’s ceremony. It is more for the friends and relatives of the World War II and Korean Conflict generation, who show up each year in diminishing numbers. Aging veterans take it easy in a row of chairs along the course of service flags while speakers utter hackneyed pabulum for those gathered. The ceremony has become a reflection of the distance society has put between the visceral reality of war and the ersatz patriotism of 21st century American society. We honor our war dead, but should we honor the living who enable our government to prosecute war? Perhaps my expectations are greater than rural Iowa can deliver upon.

Before we get wrapped up in the flag and “honor their service,” as is the commonplace, it is important to recall that war deaths are no abstraction. The living may decorate the graves of our war dead, but come tomorrow, some part of our lives must be devoted to waging peace. Otherwise those that died while defending our freedom will have died in vain.