At 10 a.m., the parade begins moving down Main Street. It is a small parade: two vintage cars, bearing the region’s oldest war veterans; the men and women who served in the military; the Salisbury Town Band; the Scouts; the Housatonic Day Care Center; the fire trucks from the volunteer fire departments in and around the Northwest Corner. We fall in line behind the fire trucks, and follow the parade to the cemetery. There’s a hymn, and a prayer, followed by a Scout who reads the Gettysburg Address, haltingly, shyly.
Then come the names of the men who died in the World Wars, in Korea, in Vietnam. A minister recites the 23rd Psalm, a bugler plays taps (with another bugler far away playing the echo), the flag is raised from half-staff, and we all walk the few steps back to the Village Center. It is as artless, as unaffected a ceremony as can be imagined. There are no speech writers, no advance men measuring the best angles for TV (there is no TV) and by the end of it, I - along with many other allegedly sophisticated urban types, are in tears.
The men whose names have been read indeed gave what Lincoln called “the last, full measure of devotion” - some in wars whose purpose no one could doubt - some in wars whose purpose will never be clear, some for the folly and arrogance of the men in charge. When they fell, their deaths were a small part of a bigger story. But every Memorial Day, the lives they never got to live, and the people they left behind, are the only story that matters.
That is why it matters that their names are uttered aloud before people who never knew any of them. That is why it matters that we were there this year - and will be there the next and the next and the next.
How apropos! I hope you are able to enjoy to the fullest the events of this weekend, traditionally viewed as the opening celebration of summer, replete with hamburgers, hot dogs, cake, and ice cream. More importantly, I hope you will take some time to reflect on the sacrifices that made all this possible.
You see, my friends, Memorial Day matters! So much so that, without what it represents, it is highly unlikely that we would be able to celebrate any of our other cherished holidays. For indeed, what we as citizens are free to celebrate on those days is ultimately dependent upon who and what we remember on this one! They all depend upon it!
ORIGINAL SOURCE: ABC News InFocus, May 28, 1997. Since cited widely on the internet.
NOTE: Jeff Greenfield is an award-winning television journalist and author focusing on politics, media, and culture who has served as a senior political correspondent for CBS, a senior analyst for CNN, and a political and media analyst for ABC News. In addition, he has also authored or co-authored 13 different books, as well as published articles in such esteemed publications as Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Harper's Magazine, among others.
For lovers of history such as myself, his recently published books on alternative histories relating to the Kennedy, Carter, Ford, and Reagan administrations are particularly thought-provoking.
These and his other works are all available on his official web site at: http://www.jeffgreenfield.net/.