Memorial Day was never overlooked in the small town South when I grew up. One of the first things school children learned was the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and to sing loudly and the out-of-tune The Star Spangled Banner, even when some little ones called it the star-spangled banana. School was out on May 26, and my family was usually at Fairhope on July 4 if we could scrape together time and money to be there. Memorial Day and July 4 were celebrated at home, but our teachers also taught us love of God and country, respect for the flag, and respect for those who serve the United States and protect her. We were taught that Veterans Day and Memorial Day are different and what that difference is and just how much it should matter to us.
Not only in school, but also in Brownies and Girl Scouts did we honor those who sacrificed for our country. “All sacrificed some, but some sacrificed all,” was not lost on little ears. I remember well the meetings we had in the Girl Scout Little House located across Broadway from First Baptist and First Presbyterian Churches. That park was called Memorial Park in that day. The Little House was quite the thing in those days, and Girl Scouts were proud to have our own special place to meet. I have kept my Girl Scout Handbook, bought new when I was a Brownie in 1948 and only published in 1947. So it was hot off the press. We would wear our brown uniforms; later, green when we became scouts, hold hands and sing. One of the songs we first learned was Taps: “Day is done, gone the sun, from the sea, from the earth, from the sky. All is well. Safely rest. God is neigh.” That song touched my heart then, and somehow I felt that God was with us right there in that little building where we sang. When I hear Taps played now, I get a lump in my throat. Although our country is not now what it was then, I still hear that message, “All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh.” He is in charge, dear reader, and only His love holds back His wrath.
Both my boys were in the scouting program, Ray, choosing the sports track for his free time and Robert continuing on with Stevie Wyatt and the FBC Scouts until he received his Eagle Scout. Both learned patriotism. Our wonderful churches promoted patriotism with special programs and featured the service songs and old hymns like The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The SHS band played such hymns and John Philip Susa marches like The Stars and Stripes Forever and Washington Post and National Emblem marches. Flags flew everywhere and VFW handed out paper poppies to those who remembered the boys who gave their lives Over There. Kate Smith sang God Bless America as only she could. Time has passed quickly, but Christian churches and schools have continued to teach patriotism and love of country even though our country is not the same country, and its leadership is taking us down strange and foreign paths. Athletes and movie stars have degraded our country while receiving extravagant amounts of money and adoration from its citizens.
I had the privilege of going to Arlington National Cemetery a few years back, and it is an awe-inspiring site, the acres of crosses in neat rows, the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown, and the graves of John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft, Presidents who are buried there.
Today in small town Alabama I am still touched by those who would give their lives for freedom, for those who are in the military never know if or when they may be called to do just that. When I walk in our town’s largest active cemetery, I see their names on foot-markers along the roads as I pass: John or Jane Doe, United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marines, United States Coast Guard, and United States Army. I often stop for a minute of reflection if that family name is one I know. I think of those families and what they endured and how some came home to die in accidents or of natural causes. Boys became men, and many were never the same after they endured the horrors of war.
I thank God for them and for our country and pray that the United States will return to our roots and become morally and spiritually what God intended for us to be. I have sweet memories of holding my Dad’s hand and searching for Rex Green’s name on the World War II monument on Ft. Williams. I remember kindergarten and third grade classes dressed in red, white, and blue paper hats, beating on oatmeal boxes or coffee cans in mock parades. I think also of money/power seeking people today who would convince folk that this country is evil to line their own pockets and change the ideology upon which it was founded. It was founded as “One nation under God,” and it was not so long ago at that. And so I remember on Memorial Day what it is about and ask you to do that, too. God help us, for we are yet the United States of America. Let’s love Him and each other.