Memorial Day 2019
Sunday dinner on Memorial Day 2019 weekend. I arrived moments after the dog walker pulled up. “Can you walk Max, along with Reily?” “Sure,” says she. (It’s the best $5.00 a week I spend.)
I found Irwin weeping, just as Alison Krauss started singing Amazing Grace, fiddle in hand, on PBS. (Irwin’s not a PBS guy, but the traditional networks don’t do right by Memorial Day or Independence Day.) We stood together, through the song, the introductions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—Irwin the R noted “Make Trump listen to you,” with nary a prompt from me—and the service songs, newest to oldest. Army last, and my pretty soon to be 93-year-old stepdad Army veteran righted himself just a bit for As the Army Goes Rolling Along.
I was filled with emotion, realizing how much this day means to this lovely man—who made my mom so happy for so many years—because he got yanked away from his comfortable and safe West Side of LA, early 1940s life. Franklin Roosevelt sent greetings, and this treasure went. (He’s shared with us that his Grandpa told him, “Don’t do anything stupid,” which is Yiddish for Eff the medals, come home alive.)
Worth remembering is the fact that Memorial Day—which honors people who died while serving in the United Stated Armed Forces—happens on the last Monday in May (thanks to a law in the Nixon era which made some patriotic holidays Monday holidays, to provide for three-day weekends.) Veterans Day occurs on November 11 because it came into existence as a result of the World War I armistice on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It honors all veterans. So, for me, Memorial Day does not involve honoring Irwin. For him, though, it’s about remembering those who fell beside him, literally and figuratively.
I experience America differently. Privilege defines me, even though I’m not part of the .001, .01, .1, 1, or 5% of America’s highest earners. I know almost no one who’s got a child or grandchild in the service. (B.P and H.P, and B.K. come to mind quickly, but when I move on no one comes to mind. Apologies.) I met someone outside a Walmart yesterday. Closest I’ve been to such a place in years. You get what I’m saying, yes?
When my stepdad showed up, he served. He met people from all walks of life. They had his back, and he had theirs.
Twenty years later, we still had a draft. But, by then, we had loopholes. We decided people of color could serve—thank you, Harry Truman—and we let them take over, along with people from places none of us—the lucky ones—can name or find on a map. And so it has been, through the middle and end days of Vietnam, and the all-volunteer military which did Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan, plenty of other lesser past adventures, and any adventures the Chicken Hawk-in-Chief and his hand-picked no-nothing underlings think up going forward.
Money has driven this division, mostly. One statistic: CEO pay, relative to average worker pay. In the late 1970s CEOs made roughly 30X their average employees’ salaries. Now? A few years ago? Almost 300X.
If I’m making tens of millions of dollars, why should my child risk his or her life in combat? Seventy-five years ago wealth did not control the Go / No Go decision. Now it does. And in doing so it mocks our national motto, e pluribus unum, out of many, one.
I got weepy too, listening to Amazing Grace. (Memorial instructions include it, even though I’ve never heard it sung at a Jewish funeral. Of course, I’ve never heard Always Look On the Bright Side of Life at a Jewish funeral either, and it’ll also be heard.) The military songs hit me, too. Anchors Away? From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli? Good stuff. But I don’t feel it like Irwin does, for at the seminal moment in my life my country expected me to get an education, have a good time, and go to work. Nothing more!
We’re effed here in America, and not insignificantly because we fail to expect and require national service. Unfortunately, right now our situation demands immediate action. Show up. Step up. Give. Vote. Dump Trump. Talk about a better future. Make the losses we honor on Memorial Day 2019 matter.