Sunday, May 25, 2014

Back For a Bit

Hey, it's Memorial Day Weekend, after all, and I'm tired of working in the yard.

Is my patriotism showing?
While Memorial Day is an American observance,
we sadly all have war dead.  

The following appeared in Navy Times so it's a repost.  Of sorts.  I wrote it sixteen years ago while I was serving aboard the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier homeported in Norfolk, Virginia.  Even though I wore a younger man's clothes, the sentiment is still the same to me.  I haven't included any pictures because the subject matter is serious.

    Nothing quite beats a three day weekend with no duty.  Can’t get much better than that, with the possible exception of July in Palma.

    The Memorial Day weekend is the first excuse since the first of the year to let our hair down and throw a party.  Being able to do it at the beach or flopped in the kids’ wading pool makes it even better.

    Sure, there are holidays in the interim but they lack the festive pizzazz associated with the last Monday in May. 

    Easter is sacred, chocolate bunnies notwithstanding.  Besides, there’s no three day weekend and who wants to barbecue in their church duds, anyway?

    Martin Luther King Jr. weekend is somber, as well, and too close to New Years.  Presidents Day is little more than a dandy time to get a good deal on furniture.  This is despite fond memories of my family’s way of observing it-although I resented being forced to dress up as Coolidge while my brothers got to be Lincoln or Kennedy.

    Of course, there’s Arbor Day.  Yeah, so?

    So, I was pretty excited when, like all good Sailors faced with three days off, I found an excuse to leave the ship early Friday morning.

    Stopping at the exchange to pick up everything I’d need (hot dogs, soft drinks, TV Guide), I finally arrived home, eager to relax until summoned back on Tuesday.

    But, wouldn’t you know it, while I perused the Sports, Comics, and editorials (in that order), there was the inevitable killjoy blathering on about how guilty we should feel.  We’ve all forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day, he thundered, and should do little more than watch John Wayne movies and fold our flags all weekend.

    What a stiff.

    I’ll grant you Memorial Day wasn’t meant to be some 72 hour bacchanalian Taco Fest, but as a way to remember our nation’s war dead.

    Originally called Decoration Day, it came into being on May 30, 1868 to allow a grateful nation to honor those killed during the Civil War.  As the years passed, it was celebrated throughout both North and South and was every bit as dignified as the originators meant it to be.

    Of course, being Americans and all, we decided in 1971 to include it in our national list of excuses to bolt from work for three straight days (right along with Columbus Day.  Tell me, does anyone except the federal government and schools take that day off?).

    The result, given the fact that it occurs in May (should have picked March.  Now there’s a gloomy month for you), is that we seemed to have traded flag-raising for hell-raising.

    I’m no better and will be the first to admit that I also see it as a perfect time to goof off. 

    But, the more I read the article, the more I began to see the author’s point.  Maybe we have lost sight of the reason behind a day originally intended for placing flowers on Union and Confederate gravesites.

    I began to feel a little ashamed.

    Then I realized, nuts to that.  I didn’t buy tickets for that guilt trip.

    Sure, many folks have no earthly clue what Memorial Day is all about.  These are the same people who think Christmas is Santa Claus, Easter is a Bunny who lays eggs, and Valentines Day is all flowers and candy (okay...bad example).

    To them, Memorial Day means remembering where they parked the car at the beach.

    Well, it may be heresy, but, so what?  You know, maybe the best way to honor those who gave their lives for their country is by living in a manner which they themselves undoubtedly cherished.

    Any of us in the military can end up a casualty, whether through an act of war, peace, or something as relatively mundane as a fall down a ladder.  That’s the chance we take in this business.   

    But, I know that, if I died in service to my country, I certainly wouldn’t want everyone to mope around, watching newsreels of my life on the History Channel year after year. 

    No, instead all I would like is for someone to cast a few thoughts my way and then get on with enjoying their lives.  Don’t forget me completely; that’s all I ask.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those who’ve fallen from Gettysburg to Dhahran told you the same thing.  Honor them, remember them, and then live life with all the gusto they secured by their sacrifice.

    So, next Memorial Day, go right ahead and fire up that gas grill and tune in the ballgame, naysayers be darned.  Why not?  You’re an American.

    But, at least once during the day, take a little time to remember the Maine.  Or the crews of Arizona, Iowa, Stark, or countless others who gave their lives defending our right to three day weekends.

    And to be free.

Al Penwasser
May 22, 1998 

I'll be back sometime in late June when life settles down substantially.  Of course, so will my paycheck.  Oh, well, as the French say, "C'est la vie!"

And you thought it was "We surrender!"


  1. Like most holidays it all turns sadly into an excuse for fat Americans to pig out and drink beer. A bit of a shame really.

  2. I do remember this but it's always a great reminder. Hope all is well in your world Mr. Penwasser!

  3. Thanks for repeating this poignant message. It really conveys the true spirit of Memorial Day.

  4. So you come back and try to ruin my eyesight, geez lol

    The meaning lost among the masses indeed it seems, to few realizing they wouldn't have what we do today if it weren't for those who fought for it.

  5. Great post my friend! I apologize in advance for what I'm about to say...

    Most of my entire comment is addressed to Adam...
    I can think of nothing I'd like to do more at this moment, then to backhand your elitist, condescending and smug face. Based on your generalization of Americans as fat beer drinking pigs, it's pretty clear that you don't like it here very much.

    For your information, just about 25% of all adult males in the U.S. are veterans. For women, the number is 2%. Add to that the 1.5 million +/- people who are on active duty. Those numbers take us to place where virtually EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN FAMILY has at least a couple, if not several vets in it. So many of these "fat Americans that "pig out and drink beer," are in fact veterans themselves.
    There are Memorial Day parades everywhere. Every national cemetery has flags on every grave and most of the houses I see have a flag, either in the window, or hanging outside of their house Almost all restaurants have some sort of freebie for vets this weekend.

    When Americans get together on occasions like Memorial day, they do so to honor the memory of those who made it possible. Whether or not they pig out and drink beer, is of no consequence. Whether or not they have a moment of silence or not, you have no way of knowing. If they don't, so what? Who are you to judge anyway? What branch of the military were you in? Which war did you serve in? I already know the answer to both of those questions.

  6. We grilled today and relaxed. What bothers me are the Memorial Day sales. It just doesn't seem to be a fitting advertisement for the weekend.


  7. Don't forget them completely indeed. Well written. And, it is sad how this holiday seems to get lost more than others--certainly a very important one.

  8. I agree Al. No better way to celebrate than to remember them, thank them and then do whatever you want because that is what they died for. So we have the right to do whatever we want, when we want and for any reason. It is called freedom. My flag is flying today and I salute all the servicemen and servicewomen who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

  9. A wonderful tribute my friend. Very poignant. Really makes one think. And I have always been a bit uncomfortable with Memorial Day sales and how commercialized it's become. So sad. When did that commercialization even start? You need to come back for good Al!

  10. On this solemn occasion of commemoration, the image in my mind is of the Bunny who lays eggs. Would the pain in its ass be appropriate on a day of mourning?

  11. Everyone should remember those who served and died for their country