Monday, May 25, 2009



“…Thank you, God, for farmers and gardens and rain and sunshine and clouds and holidays and football and bless this food. And thank you for Memorial Day when we remember the soldiers who died fighting for our country. Amen.”

“Amen! I’m always proud of you, Jeffrey, when you pray before our meals for so many special things that you are thankful to God for. I’m sure God is listening and smiling on you. You must have learned about Memorial Day at school, right?”

“I did. After the Civil War in 1868 General John A. Logan made a proclamation that people should honor both the Union soldiers and the Confederate ones. They put little American flags on the graves of every soldier in Arlington Cemetery every year on May 30. After that the idea spread all over the country. Now, I guess, they moved the date to the last Monday in May so we can get a longer holiday weekend.”

“When I was about your age, Jeffrey, we called it ‘Decoration Day’ and the veterans from other wars put flags on the soldiers’ graves in the cemetery in Iowa where I lived too. It didn’t matter whether they were killed in battle or died later. And everyone brought fresh flowers, especially Peonies and Irises and Lilacs from their gardens, to put on the graves. They decorated not only the soldiers’ graves but those of other people in their families who died. ”

“Veterans are people who came back from the war, right? I read that most cities had parades on that day. Did they do that in your hometown, Grandma?”

“Every year without fail. Bands from the local high schools marched in the parade and all the living veterans from several wars marched in the parade wearing hats that showed what branch of the military they served in. Then they had music and speeches about brave heroes. Everyone in town bought red paper poppies from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to raise money to help families of the soldiers who died in the war. The poppies were usually made by disabled veterans.”

“How did the custom of the poppies start?”

“A soldier named John McCrae, who served in the American army in France in the World War I, wrote a poem about his fellow soldiers who died there. They were buried in a cemetery called Flanders. All of us had to memorize that poem in school.”

“Do you still remember the words, Grandma?”

“The first verse is,

‘In Flanders field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Love and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders field.’

I guess real poppy flowers were planted between the white crosses in the cemetery.”

“When we study history in school it seems like there are always wars going on somewhere. Why do people fight and kill each other, Grandma?”

“There is not a simple answer. The leaders of some countries, but usually not the ordinary people, selfishly want to conquer other nations and take away their freedoms and their land. In the United States, our armed forces volunteer to leave their homes and families to courageously fight to defend our freedom from enemies who want to control us. Our soldiers also help to defend other countries which are threatened by enemies who want to gain power over them and hurt their people.

“Did you know some of the soldiers who went to war when you were young?”

“A lot of my uncles and cousins and boys from our high school class joined the army and navy right after they graduated. Some of them whom I knew really well got killed. Families used to put a banner with a gold star in their window to honor the memory of their son or husband or brother who got killed in the war.”

“Were any of our own family in the wars?”

“Your Great-Grandfather, Frank, my Daddy, fought in France with the American army about the same time that soldier wrote the Flanders poem. I thank God that he didn’t get killed there. When the war was over and he got out of the army, he married my Mother and a little girl was born to them—me! When I was young I used to dress up in his uniform and play soldier with my friends. Daddy was with the 313th Ammunition Train Division which was in charge of shipping guns to the troops who were fighting on the front lines. I have a photo of him in France with a horse he rode alongside the trains to protect the shipments.”

“That’s so cool. I wish I could have met him. I’ll bet he would have some exciting stories to tell.”

“I expect you will meet your Great Grandpa Frank someday in heaven. He had Jesus in his heart too. On your Mommy’s side of the family, her father is a very high-ranking soldier in the Thailand army. He is your Grandfather whom you call ‘Kun-ta’ who comes to visit you sometime with your Grandma whom you call ‘Kun-yai’. Your Grandfather was a famous career soldier and held an important position in the army. He has retired now with the official rank of General.”

“Kun-ta is not his name, Grandma. It means ‘grandfather’ in Thai. He told me he even served in the palace of the King of Thailand. When I was little and visited Thailand, he assigned some of his soldiers to help take care of me while I was playing. He was in charge of the Cavalry and is a really good horseman. We went to see where he had to live part of the time when he was on duty. I’m proud of my ‘Kun-ta’.”

“Your Grandpa Ted, your Daddy’s Dad, who was Grandma’s husband, served in the American Marine Corps during part of his college years. He was a Specialist Interpreter with the Intelligence and was sent to China with the First Marine Division. He’ll have plenty of adventures to tell you about when you meet him in heaven too. He died before you were born so he didn’t know about you—but he probably knows all about you now and even prays for you. He must be proud of how big you are growing and how well you are learning.”

“Wasn’t Uncle Rick, Daddy’s brother, in the army too?”

“Yes. He served with the Nike Hercules Missile Division of the U. S. Army that was in charge of defending Washington, D.C. in case of enemy attack during the Vietnam War. He volunteered for the army soon after he finished high school. He learned so much about guns and ammunition in the army and that may be why he likes to teach classes now to certify citizens in gun safety for the NRA.”

“Whew! Anyone else? This is exciting to know about.”

“Your Great-Great-Grandfather Jan, (John)—who was my grandfather in Europe in what is now called the Czech Republic—was forced to serve in the army of Austria-Hungary because that country occupied his homeland. That was sometime in the mid-1800s. I have only one photo of him, and he was in an army uniform. After he got home he married my grandmother, Frantiska, and they had six children, one of whom was my Daddy, Frank, whom I already told you about.”

“I have lots of names of real family members to think about on Memorial Day, won’t I?”

“People should display the American flag and on public buildings it flies at half mast. When President Clinton was in office in 2000, he made a proclamation for a National Moment of Remembrance that we should observe at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Memorial Day. We can either be silent and honor our military who have died, and veterans and all our friends who have died, or we can pray for them as we listen to a soldier play ‘Taps’ on a bugle or trumpet.”

“What is ‘Taps’, Grandma?”

“It is a short, slow, beautiful melody of only 24 notes which is played in military installations to signal ‘lights out’ at bedtime, or at the funerals of veterans, or at flag ceremonies. Our President goes to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and ‘Taps’ are played. There are many versions of the words to that melody, but one of them is:
‘Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes,
From the hills,
From the sky;
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.’”

“I guess there’s a lot more to Memorial Day than having picnics and eating barbecue and having a fun holiday—and watching the Indianapolis 500.”

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