Memorial Day 2011 Diaries: Personal Stories, Tweets, Photos
Over the weekend, we asked readers of The Daily Beast to tell us what Memorial Day means to them, whether that's simply fireworks in the park or a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. Here's what you told us.
“Today's the day I lovingly remember childhood friends Howard Morse and Wally Pratt, sweet young men who died in Vietnam before they were old enough to vote.
Howard never really fit in anywhere but he tried so hard to be one of the cool kids. He was sweet, funny, and chivalrous. When he came to my house every Wednesday night for help with his English homework, my mother fed him pretzels and Faygo Red Pop and when he left always said, 'That Howard is a nice boy.' And he was.
Our junior high school had a dance just about every Friday night. Howard and I usually went together. His dad would drive us there and my sister picked us up. It wasn't a date, just a ride to the dance. But every Friday night when the music began, boys lined up on one side of the gym and girls on the other, Howard always asked me for the first dance. He was sweet in many ways.
Summer evenings I'd sit in the swing out on the front porch before bedtime and quite often Howard would walk the several blocks from his house and sit with me, swinging and talking softly about his hopes and dreams. He wanted to be a soldier.”
Marine Corporal Howard E. Morse died October 25, 1967, in Quang Nam, South Vietnam. He's on Panel 28E Line 69 of The Wall.
Then there was Wally. Wally Pratt was a skinny, kind of dorky kid who wore bowties and played the violin. He was sensitive and had his feelings hurt easily.
We were dance partners in junior high dancing class. All we had to do was learn the box step but you would have thought it was some highly choreographed move the way we went about it. We were clumsy with our hands, feet, and bodies and neither of us knew where anything went.
I stepped on Wally, Wally stepped on me. I know it was a sight. Then, as suddenly as you could imagine, we got it. We were dancing. We looked at each other in amazement, laughed, and Wally yelled out for the whole class to hear, 'We're DOIN' IT!!'
In my memory I think the teacher, Miss Hoffman, clapped but maybe she didn't. Next thing I knew we were dipping and twirling. It's one of the happiest memories I have of junior high school and to this day it makes me smile. Wally always made me smile.
Combat Medic PFC Walter Raymond Pratt died February 8, 1968, Quang Nam, South Vietnam. He listed on Panel 38E line 37 of The Wall.
Hail and Farewell. You are not forgotten.”
Jo Ann Wingfield, Wooster, Ohio. This remembrance will appear on the author's blog today.
Peoria Dedication Stones
“These two stones are being dedicated to my father and brothers at the WWI and WWII Memorial located on the Peoria, Illinois, Court House Square this coming Memorial Day on Monday, 30 May 2011. I will not be able to attend but if you take my father, four brothers and myself, we all have served on active duty in either WWI, WWII, Korea or Vietnam War eras. As the only American invited to speak at the celebration of the liberation of concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria, May 7th this year, this Memorial Day honoring my father and brother's service just adds to the reason I had no qualms serving my country for five years as both an active-duty enlisted man and officer between 1960-1965.”
Dr. Richard G. Macdonald, Washington, Illinois
Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
“My early memories of Memorial Day prior to time spent in the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment were cluttered with barbeques and for the most part, school-free days of leisure. Back then, I had yet to fully grasp the importance of the day. Today, it remains one of the most significant of days in the calendar year to me. I hesitate to use the term 'holiday,' as Memorial Day is a time to reflect and pay tribute. My most special memory of this day took place when I was serving as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery is the most busy day of the year (though rivaled by Veterans' Day).
For Tomb Guards, it means a jarring break from the 'normal' routine of 21 steps, heel clicks, and guard changes. Throughout the day, the guard's walk is broken up with multiple wreath layings from various groups and individuals. The day is filled with regular irregulars all the way from the president (whose wreath laying is followed by a televised speech and ceremony in the Memorial Amphitheater directly behind the Tomb) to the Boy Scouts, to the bizarre "Order of the Cootie" (a veterans' group with roots in World War 2 who can lay over 100 wreaths each year depending on the number of VFW posts participating).
However, one group, The Gold Star Mothers, remains etched in my mind and continues to stir deep feelings whenever I reflect on the meaning behind their organization. I'm not sure if they were more solemn than the other groups, but in my mind's eye they are stoic and solemn. From my position in "The Box" where the guard stays during the ceremony I was able to observe many groups on those days. What I noticed was the usual muted cutting up that folks take when present at the Tomb. Sometimes they laugh quietly and speak amongst each other, usually in awkward awe at the seriousness at which we carry out our duty.
These Gold Star Mothers neither cracked a smile nor cried as they laid their wreaths at the base of the Tomb and lined up along the chains awaiting the bugler's rendition of "Taps." At this time, circa 2002, our country was staring down the beginning of "Shock and Awe" less than a year later. The ranks of the Gold Star Mothers were populated with many women with white hair, mothers to children lost in the Vietnam War. They were dressed in pure white balanced on the emblazoned midday marble of the plaza the Tomb resides on. As "Taps" played, I did notice a few tears and hugs of support, and when they filed away, I returned to my walk, heavy with emotion.
Their presence on the plaza represented a lot to me. I thought of my own mother, at home worried sick wondering if her son would end up in Iraq. I thought of the women on the plaza, decades removed from seeing their child. Their pain was palpable that day. Many times, soldiers like myself enlist without batting an eye thinking about the ramifications of service, much less how it makes our mother feel. We are invincible ministers of death, trained in the greatest military the Earth has ever seen. Dwelling on the reality of service doesn't really fit in with the mentality of success or mind-set of anyone in the armed forces.
Of course the Gold Star Mothers understand. Their white uniforms stand out in stark contrast to traditional mourning color of black. From their website, they explain the rationale behind this color choice:
"... the decision by AGSM to wear white, rather than black, was a strong statement of how the women wanted to be perceived as they participated in the organization's business. Yes, they mourned their lost children, but white made a symbolic statement that went beyond mourning, a statement of peace, sacrifice, innocence, and goodness. Those were the things that their children had been and had died for—wearing white celebrated their children's contributions while the gold star acknowledged their sacrifice."
Sadly, the last decade has seen their ranks increase in number, bolstered with the young mothers of this generation's war. These days, whenever I think of Memorial Day, I reflect on the Gold Star Mothers of America... and their continued memorialization of those cherished sons and daughters lost in our country's wars.”
Benjamin Bell, Tampa, FL (Badgeholder #494)
Had we listened to our Native American's more and politician's less, we might have different ideas on what to memorialize. #Mymemorialdayless than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet ReplyJim BaranLEANVSL
Memorial Day Tweets
A #proud #family history of #service and sacrifice. What's yours? #mymemorialdayless than a minute ago via txt Favorite Retweet ReplyPAULA PAULATRUMP #mymemorialday A walk through Arlington. http://t.co/lm83LCqless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet ReplyGQCOP45GQCOP45 @ thedailybeast Memorial Day is best served with some grillin' and chillin'! let's bust out the lighter fluid. #mymemorialdayless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet ReplySarah GriecoWebByline Heading to Medford and then Brookings, OR for #mymemorialday with the GF. Fun road trip ahead, lets get the rest of the day over with! less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyJustin Dykejustintd19 @ thedailybeast Memorial Day means running a road race then beaching it with friends. #mymemorialday #mondayless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyRachel LeamonRleamon #mymemorialday #vets… all who served gave some, some who served gave all. that is What we honor this weekend ,,,, less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Replyalec j rosenalecjr #Mymemorialday involves a different kind of pipeline. My gratitude to our military for my families peace and safety. Forever flowing. less than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet ReplyJim BaranLEANVSL A proud family history of service and sacrifice. #mymemorialdayless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyScott R SpurlockUsedtobeEleven
Remembrances from Newsweek's Facebook community:
Jennifer Voiland Kready: "This is my second Memorial Day as spouse (and USAF vet, sister of Marine and soldier vets) of a deployed soldier. It means a little more to me than normal. If he were home, we'd host our single soldiers for food and family time. We'll do that for 4th of July."
Ken Poole: "What I think about most is what might have been. I think of promise of those young men and women lives who were cut down before their time, in a war not of their doing and often misguided in its intent. It is hard to find justification for war but I feel so deeply for those who have lost their lives in these conflicts. I fear that as a country involved in three wars now we have not learned a thing from history."
Deborah Snider: "My family has always respected this holiday by visiting the graves of our family members and placing flags. We have family that served every conflict beginning with the Revolutionary War."
Dan Cieplinski: "My grandmother died on Memorial Day. My grandfather took himself off life support two years later, also on Memorial Day. I guess he thought it would mean he'd be with her again."
Jaimie Schock: "I once went to a Memorial Day parade with my father when I was little. They shot off guns with blanks. When it was over, the little kids ran out into the street to pick up the empty shell casings. I brought one in to school the next week and was sent to the principal's office because the teacher didn't know the difference between a bullet and a shell. I'm sure there are plenty of metaphors that can be derived from this story, some liberal-oriented and some conservative, but it actually doesn't mean anything at all to me now. I don't have a strong opinion on Memorial Day. I can count that memory neither among the good nor the bad."
Aimee McHale Wayling: "In the past, I've always thought about nameless, faceless veterans who died in defense of liberty and humanity. This year, I will think of Restrepo… the young fighters from today's wars, the squandered potential, the terrible loss, the bravery."
Kara Beachum: "I think of all the great veterans I have been so lucky to meet & to have in my family! Parades, sparklers, pulled pork barbeque sandwiches, bratwursts, gyros, pizza, French fries, fireworks, carnivals, camping and ice cream cones. I think of "America the Beautiful" and how it became the land of the free. I think of flags displayed in windows and raised on flag poles. I think of how our country gets along and how families celebrate that day. I also think of our men here who may have not been to war but who stand and build America's homefront. I think of men who have came to this country and how they have gotten here. But most importantly I remember those old veterans whose waves I will always welcome and courage I will always admire. Memorial Day is always going to be a special day for me. I sometimes volunteer at the veterans' home and I wish more people would do the same. Nothing makes me feel better than to make sure our vets are being taken care of."
William Sparks: "It means we need to remember politicians who falsely state their war record throughout the year."
Ian Miller: "Remembering my fellow VETERANS who gave their all for this great nation."
Muhammad Ali: "It's all about having fun with family and to avoid the scorching beams of summer and their effect on social life."
Mary Lawrence Forester: "It is a remembrance of those loved ones that have fought and died for our and the world's rights to have freedom! Honor them and all that they have done!"
And a few from The Daily Beast's Facebook community:
Linda Miner Bryan: "Memorial Day is a time for me to remember loved ones who are no longer with us… especially those heroes who have served our country. RIP James D. Peoples from Pennsylvania who died in Vietnam in 1968 while serving as a Green Beret."
Teresa Lehane: "Lost my dad on Memorial Day. So poetic to have a national holiday for my veteran dad!"
David Beam: "I was born during WWII and grew up watching "Victory at Sea" and of course WWII movies. I had uncles in both military and diplomatic service. Back then, there was real patriotism and love of country, including a willingness to sacrifice. Very different from the anti-tax, anti-government, self-proclaimed "patriots" of the present era. Beating back both the Depression and the Axis, that was indeed the greatest generation. It is shocking the their spirit is so unusual now."
Liz Howes: "I live on Camp Pendleton… I get to see the deep honor and commitment sailors and Marines have... and the sacrifices they and their families to maintain our way of life. Memorial Day is just another day… it's the daily gratitute I have for our military folks and the long honorable history of service they are becoming part of."
Janet Wolfbauer: "The holiday reminds me of my father and brother, both dead now, both served in the military--Dad was Navy and brother was Air Force. They were both very proud and so was I, still am!"
Patty Christensen: "As much as we "want" to twist this "Holiday" into something to commemorate anyone that has passed on, "MEMORIAL DAY" is REALLY about honoring our "FALLEN MILITARY HEROES," so please don't turn into something it's NOT! Honor family and friends that have passed on the day before, or the day after MEMORIAL DAY."