Here in the USA, we remember our veterans, especially on particular American holidays. There is Memorial Day at the end of May and Veterans’ Day on November 11th. The first of these started life as Decoration Day after the American Civil War, first observed on May 30th, but became a Monday holiday – along with three other national days – in the late 1960s. This is the day for us to remember our war dead. Veterans Day is much less celebrated than it used to be. Certainly the date has less resonance for the US than for Western Europe. Our hometowns were not devastated by the trench warfare of World War I as happened in France and Belgium nor was our male population reduced to the extreme extent that theirs was. This may explain why Nov 11 in the USA is a day to honor all our veterans, whether they are dead – and regardless of cause – or still alive. Side note – we don’t really mark May 8th (V-E Day) or V-J Day, whether the August 15th UK-recognized date or the Sept 2nd official surrender signing. It puzzles me a bit that we remember Pearl Harbor and the two A-bomb drops on Japan instead but that’s just me, I guess and a different topic altogether.
I struggle as much as anyone to mark Memorial Day and Veterans Day in an appropriately respectful way. After all, none of my ancestors were war casualties as far as I know. I’m a lucky baby-boomer and – on my father’s side – a second generation American. My Dad’s father worked in the NY shipyards at the beginning of the 20th century, having emigrated via ship from Hamburg from Bohemia when it was still part of Austria. This work may have exempted him from the WWI draft, or maybe he was not a US citizen yet.*
*I would welcome any clarification from my cousins on this point.
Dad served in the US Army from 1941 until July 1945 (shortly after V-E Day). He must have been lucky, too – he managed to make it through the war unwounded, even though he landed in Normandy on June 12th, 1944 (aka D-Day plus 6) and went on to fight at the Falaise Gap, the Battle of the Bulge and into that part of western Germany known as the Rhineland.
Dad and I made a trip to Normandy – my first, his third or fourth – in May of 2002. I’ve posted blogs about that trip, should any new followers be interested. (Key in Normandy in the search box of this blog to call up those posts). That trip was a singular experience. It turned out to be the last trip abroad Dad, aged 87, would make with me or anyone else and it included a few thrilling days in Iceland, where Dad was stationed from May 1941 until October 1943, when he got shipped first to Britain and then France; it was the first time he had been back in Iceland since the war and my only visit there until this past January.
Today I remember that trip, especially for the time we spent on the Normandy beaches. We weren’t there on the 6th of June and we weren’t there in a “big” remembrance year but it was absolutely special and, every year, today is the day when I’m most likely to weep for the sacrifices of all who serve/d, whether they live/d through the effort or not and, approaching the sixth anniversary of Dad’s passing at the end of August, I weep because I miss him.
So, even if I somehow forget to fly the flag on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day or Flag Day (June 14th), I put it out on June the 6th. It’s after sundown. The flag is in. When the lump in my throat goes away, I’ll have some dinner.