YARMOUTH – Standing with a few hundred people on the town green last year for a Memorial Day celebration, I had a feeling of loss come over me.

No one had died in my family in a war recently, nor had anyone in our town. We all stood there among the coffin flags, each of which represented a local family who had lost someone from wars past or present.

Moments earlier, the short but festive parade down Main Street, the pulsing drumbeats from the two marching bands, and seeing my young daughter march for the first time had left me feeling upbeat and playful.

Then the ceremonies began with more solemn tones, as they should, and I began to feel lost. Like I’d never been here before. Like Memorial Day had been taken from me years ago. The coffin flags drew the crowd in closer.

In my father’s generation, all the men in my family served in WWII or Korea. All did well and in our extended family only one died.

My father didn’t like to talk about his experience as a “hump” pilot flying over the Himalayas, where 30 percent of the airplanes were lost due to weather and enemy fire. He won all the awards and medals that an airman could, yet had nothing to say about it, really.

He preferred talking about the times on leave when he could travel around India, away from the fighting. I don’t remember him or anyone else making a big deal out of Memorial Day. “Why not?” I thought last year, so many of them died.

My generation had Vietnam. A lost, cursed war with chaos at home and abroad. We battled the “enemy” and we battled each other for many years as the war dragged on. The dead and wounded and traumatized, left dangling out on a limb, pushed away from glory, and misunderstood for years to come.

In that time we had Memorial Day celebrations just like today, but they felt torn and awkward like the war raging across the ocean. No heroes’ welcome. No “Semper Fi” cheers. No “When Johnny comes marching home again, hoorah hoorah!” No monuments or memorials.

It took us years to figure out how to thank the soldiers who were just doing what they were asked to do. They were not fighting a political war, they just fought a war.

My baby boomer generation lost something during Vietnam that is only now coming back to us.

It feels right and good to honor the individual men and women who choose to serve in the military, and sometimes fight wars we may not like or support.

For whatever personal reasons they may have, our soldiers make this choice to serve.

I have a son who made this choice five years ago. He’s doing just fine, thank you.

When he made this decision I knew it was a good one for him. Yet, I don’t ever want to be at a Memorial Day event for him. Please, no!

He has friends who’ve been killed or injured, and had a few close calls himself. He’s seen the good and bad side to life in the military. He’s doing the jobs he’s been trained to do. Risk and danger come with the territory.

Politicians play their rhetorical games, but they also make the big decisions that lead to Memorial Days all over our country. We all benefit and we all lose at the same time. These freedoms we cherish come at a cost.

As I thought of my father and son on Memorial Day last year, while standing on the town green watching the coffin flags shift in the breeze, I felt some of the loss those families know. I felt the risk, I felt the pride, and I felt thankful that a small town parade could give me back Memorial Day.

I’ll be back again this year.




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