Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day - A Time to Remember

During the Saturday Writers open mic meeting on May 29, Jerrel Swingle read an essay that moved most of the roughly 30 attendees to tears. Before reading his piece, Jerry began with the quote "We who are left to die salute you." That phrase rang a bell, so when I got home I researched and discovered it was what gladiators said (in Latin) before entering the arena--it's probably familiar from reading about Caesar in high school Latin class.

Back to Jerry's essay. He described an encounter with an elderly veteran selling red buddy poppies in front of a supermarket. His poignant essay was also a tribute to those who have died in any war or who've came back from war broken, damaged, or changed.

Jerry spoke of the history of the buddy poppies after World War I, "the war to end all wars," and wove in the poem "In Flander's Field," written by Col. John McCrae of Canada. The poem describes blowing red fields among the battleground of the fallen.

In Flander's Field

by John McCrae

In Flanders Fields 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,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.

On this Memorial Day I remember young men from my youth who, in the words of President Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address, gave their "last measure of devotion," fighting for their country. From the City of St. Louis, Missouri, the names of 260 men are on the walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Here are four I knew:

James Donnelly, a classmate at Most Holy Name of Jesus School in North St. Louis, Missouri, was a shy, smart, and handsome boy with dark hair and dark eyes. He took me to Holy Name's eighth grade dance in 1962 on the steamship Admiral on the Mississippi River. Jim gave me my first corsage. He died in 1968 as an Army soldier in Vietnam.

William June was also a classmate at Holy Name and grew up in our North St. Louis neighborhood.

Ron Imperiali, a friend of my sister Kathleen, grew up in our North St. Louis neighborhood.

Michael Blassie was my date for the St. Alphonsus (Rock) senior prom in 1966. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy and was sent to Vietnam. In 1972 he was declared MIA then KIA after his plane was shot down. His remains were buried for several years in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier until DNA proved the remains were his. His remains were returned home for burial in 1998. My husband Walt (also an Air Force Vietnam veteran) and I attended the ceremony at Jefferson Barracks.

Eternal rest grant them, Oh Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon them.


  1. This was a great tribute piece. it's so easy to get caught up in BBQ's and going to the beach on Memorial Day, so thanks for reminding us all why we have today off--to honor and remember the fallen and those who have served.

  2. Moving post. It seems that you had many losses during that time.

    My small town sent boys too. Most came home but some came home damaged. Charlie's life was fragmented by alcohol, despair and damaged body parts when he came home, never was the same. At our class reunion, he asked for a special hug goodbye, like it was his last which it came to be. He then found a wife, started rasing sheep, began a new life. In the next spring lambing season their house caught fire, taking his wife. Charlie was air lifted to a burn unit himself but said he did not want to go on lviing--and so he didn't. The cheerful Charlie I had known and held hands with really had died earlier in Vietnam.

  3. Knowing a man or woman who died in war really brings home the meaning of Memorial Day. It is sad when it is just a day to picnic, and I almost wish it were still called Decoration Day to remind us what we are supposed to be doing.

  4. Hi Krysten,
    How true. The older I get the more meaningful this day has become.

  5. Hi Claudia,
    Thanks for sharing your memory of Charlie. So many of the Vietnam veterans who came home were different people, my husband included.

  6. Hi Linda,
    I agree. When Jerry read his essay on Saturday and mentioned the history behind the buddy poppies, the younger writers in our group (under 30) were transfixed--and it was good for those who of us who are older and knew the history, but needed a reminder.

  7. Lovely tribute. Flander's Field always moves me to tears. Such power in such simple words.

  8. Hi Donna! Lovely and moving. I agree with Linda Austin....above comment. I mentioned on my blog about the "old" name being Decoration Day. I, too, knew of boys that were killed in Vietnam. It was such a sad time in history,,,,as all wars are.

  9. Hi Jemi,
    I agree. The words are simple, yet moving. Another short but powerful one is the Gettysburg Address.

  10. Hi Becky,
    It is sad, and while I knew boys who lost their lives, I'm thankful that my husband Walt and my brother Jimmy came back safe.


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