Time, which annually takes a toll of the men and women who fought our wars, has also taken its toll on the day set aside to honor the service of those who came back and the memory of those who never did.Farmer suggests that the Korean war marked the beginning of this change, because it was too abstract a war: "For much of its three years, the fighting there didn’t even make the front page of this nation’s newspapers. And television coverage didn’t exist. It was a war that wore itself out; there was no peace treaty, merely an armistice of exhaustion. And though the U.S.-led effort did, in fact, stop the communist march, it didn’t seem like a victory. Korea was a “political war;” it didn’t leave much to celebrate."
Memorial Day, like so much of the national past, isn’t what it used to be. Some communities have canceled the observance altogether. Others report attendance at the parades and music performances and the day’s solemn grave-side observances is declining.
There are those of a certain age who can recall when Decoration Day, as it was known then, was observed with almost religious fervor, certainly in the years following World War II, but even in the depths of the Great Depression. In today’s helter-skelter world, Memorial Day seems little more than an artifact.
How did that happen?
Vietnam only accelerated the process: "It became an American tragedy that split the country, pitting an educated, younger generation against its older leaders. Some returning soldiers were spat upon or verbally abused and more than a few were wary of wearing the uniform on leave. Patriotism fell out of favor, and Memorial Day with it."
Farmer mentions yet another factor: "But the larger legacy of Vietnam — one that has inadvertently made Memorial Day seem less relevant to everyday Americans — is our volunteer Army. By all accounts, this volunteer force is the most proficient and dedicated Army we’ve ever fielded. Its men and women deserve gratitude and support. But it has undercut the notion of shared sacrifice that marked the two World Wars and even Korea."
Thus, Farmer concludes:
Not many Americans see military service any more. And lots of those who have are dying off. Last week, John W. Finn, last of the 15 Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor winners, died in California. He was 100 years old. Seems almost the end of an era.If you have not seen either of the films featured above, Taking Chanceor Flags of Our Fathers,they are both worth watching.
If you’ve got nothing more important to do today, find a Memorial Day parade, buy a poppy and say a prayer for our service men and women and for John Finn, wherever he is. It’d be a nice thing to do.
Related: Two musical settings to Lt.-Colonel John MacRae's In Flanders Fields