There were many men.
A few, very few, were superannuated and had seen action in “The War to End All Wars.” They had deep creases in their cheeks and temples. Age had made the men withered and gaunt and their uniforms, which presumably fit their younger selves properly, were oversized. Too old to march the parade route, they were chauffeured in highly polished, brightly colored, open-topped classic cars built in a time when all cars were American cars.
And then there were old men. This group smiled the most at the crowd. And why not? They were the most clear about what they had done. Most could still walk on their own. They didn’t march so much as walk cohesively to the music. The music was oddly familiar to me — the same tunes to which we attached mildly bawdy lyrics while riding the yellow school buses in the morning and afternoon. I didn’t know a particular march was called the Marines’ Hymn, however. I only knew lyrics like “we will fight our teachers’ battles with spitball hand grenades.” Oh, we all knew the lyrics. Even if I had never seen a spitball.
And there were some not so old men. There weren’t as many of them, despite being the most recent group. Young men who had been prematurely aged by the horrors of the jungles in Southeast Asia. And, perhaps, the horrors of an ambivalent public as if these men drafted themselves for a dangerous adventure halfway across the world based on the thinnest of Ivy League foreign policy theories.
It was fitting all the men marched past the town’s vast cemetery. The cemetery is over 300 years old because that is just how it is in a small Connecticut town. Much like the certainty the local membership of the Daughters of the American Revolution will also be part of the Memorial Day Parade. Or that the surnames of some of your friends can be found on the centuries-old tombstones in the cemetery.
The specifics of Memorial Day’s origins are, and remain, sketchy. But all are somehow tied to the American Civil War. That is not surprising. Estimated deaths in the conflict numbered 750,000 in a country of 31 million. For every 100 citizens in 1861, the War would take away more than 2 in just four years’ time.
With those numbers, the War personally touched everyone in the Nation. The dead humbled America. The need to remember – to make sense of the atrocity – was great.
And so: Memorial Day.
As of today, America has 100,000 dead from the Covid-19 virus in just 3 months. The number of deaths has, without a doubt, been boosted by the policies of the Trump Administration and the President’s Republican Party, which consistently enables his actions. Be it ignoring early warning security briefings, profiteering off the pandemic, encouraging astroturfed “protests,” or attempting political quid pro quo with states for federal assistance, the President’s actions have actively ballooned the statistics of the dead.
The President’s supporters, who just yesterday obsessed about four dead Americans in Benghazi and today loudly insist on honoring those who died in foreign wars, take no issue with the 100,000 Americans who have needlessly died in a domestic war. It is, perhaps, not surprising those who refuse masks and social distancing are the very same people who fervently and unquestioningly follow a draft-dodging President.
This Government conscripted its entire population and sent these citizens into battle. For corporate interests. We now have 100,000 dead – and this War is not yet over.
Who will remember these dead? Who will bear witness to their pain and suffering?
Over the years, there have been more men – and women – marching past the ancient cemetery in that small Connecticut town. New wars bring new horrors and new sacrifices that require acknowledgement.
Will some future Memorial Day Parade, I wonder, have doctors and nurses, emergency workers and warehouse personnel marching, honoring their fellow combatants no longer here? For surely all those who died for the Nation – and especially for the Nation’s wealthy – deserve at least one day each year in remembrance.