Memorial Day: Growing Up in West Virginia

Memorial Day: Growing Up in West Virginia May 26, 2018

Memorial Day in West Virginia was about veterans or at least that is how I remember the day. I was too little to think of “days off.” Summer is a day off when you are a kid: the longest, sweetest day of all.

A healthy fact about my childhood was that cemeteries were a living place. We went there often to decorate graves, to clean tombstones, and to walk. Graveyards are the novels of civilizations: The first time I went to London, my childhood intervened and I visited a graveyard. This was perfect. I saw centuries of London in stone in one place with no crowds and all the time I needed to reflect.

There must have been living World War I veterans, but the men I recall were from the War. That was World War II and they were younger then than I am now. They were confident in the justice of their cause, as they should have been. They were quiet, not given to boasting, and they were manly.

I don’t have anything to add to this, but that knowing men like my cousin Paul (D-Day, German POW, hero) was good. Nobody ever told me America was perfect. We were West Virginians: almost heaven, but not yet paradise.

My memory of Memorial Day is of death and sacrifice. I was taught, as children should be, of heroes like York and Ike. Nobody suggested they were perfect, just that when history called, they got the biggest question of their life right. My mom made sure we thought about our flaws. I was still in the “cowboys and Indians” era of childhood play, but Mom made sure that this was problematized. Nobody was righteous, no not one.

Just so.

That flawed American hero, John MacCain writes:

Often the very act of supporting human rights overseas compels us to make our own “shining city upon a hill” worthier of such a boast. There’s a story about Vice President Richard Nixon visiting the West African country of Ghana in 1957 to mark its official independence from the British Empire. Moved by the jubilant celebration, Nixon is reported to have asked one ecstatic Ghanaian after another, “How does it feel to be free?” until one young man replied, “I wouldn’t know, sir. I’m from Alabama.” Our support during the Cold War for the human rights of the peoples of the Soviet Union and its satellites helped force us to face up to our own failings more honestly. Russians, Cubans, Vietnamese, and just about every Marxist-Leninist regime in the world responded to our criticism of them with reminders that we continued to deny full citizenship to African Americans. Exposing our hypocrisy to the world played a part in forcing change in America, helping convince leaders to adopt laws that oblige us to live up to our values. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Detainee Treatment Act forty years later were to an extent a response to accusations that our proselytizing on behalf of the God-given dignity of all people was cynical.

So it is.

That’s what an adult must learn and every school should teach.

God save this Republic. May the souls of the faithfully departed that laid down their lives for their nation be remembered and may their souls come to Paradise.

Amen.

 


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