Memorial Day Thoughts – Part 1

              I was born in a small town in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania where Memorial Day meant that as a small child I would observe the annual Memorial Day Parade honoring veterans. The parade would include fire trucks from local volunteer fire companies, children from girl and boy scout troops, decorated bicycles, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War groups, the high school band and almost anyone who wanted to be part of the parade. I remember that my father was always part of the color guard and marched in his Marine Corps uniform surrounded by his friends who served in various branches. The rest of the year that uniform was encased in plastic and then stored in the attic of our home. My father never ever talked about his experiences during the war. I have found out since then that he was involved in the battles of Leyte Gulf and Mindanao. I do regret that I foolishly did not ask him much about those times – when I would ask he would just dismiss any talk of that nature. Now, as an adult I am loaded with questions that he cannot answer since he has passed away.  In those days Memorial Day also marked the end of the school year so after the parade students and families would congregate at a place called the Homecoming Grounds and we would be served hot dogs and drinks to celebrate the day. If I was lucky my Dad would also take me along to the VFW building, let me sit at the bar and drink a soda while he reminisced with his fellow veterans – I don’t have a memory of my Dad being much of a drinker. I think he may have had a beer or two that day but drinking was not something he was fond of.
              My father was not much of a talker either, but when the time came for me to join the military (I had a high draft number during the Vietnam years), he did want to let me know what he thought. He took me out in the backyard and we stood under a black walnut tree – the ground was loaded with black walnuts encased in their green protection and they made walking difficult. You could sprain an ankle if you stepped on them the wrong way! My grandfather used to collect those walnuts and we would take a hammer and break away the green covering – underneath that was an almost pitch black coating that would stain hands and clothing if you weren’t careful – after we chipped that away we would let them dry out in the sun, wash them off later and then crack the walnut shell. I still love the taste of black walnuts and to this day that taste brings back a lot of memories. Anyway, that conversation with my Dad was very short. He wanted to let me know in clear terms that he did not favor one branch of service over another, but his only request to me was that I not join the Marines. He would not go into the whys and wherefores but he wanted to make that feeling clear to me. I followed that advice and ended up joining the Navy, with no further word from my father about the matter. In those days, in that small town, it did not occur to me to not join. I did not know anyone that had resisted or become a CO in those years. That was not a thought that entered my mind. Ironically, in later years I would join a group called the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) and would counsel high school students who wanted to consider CO status or active duty military personnel who wanted to claim CO status.
               This year I traveled up to Tremont with Carol and my sister Pat and her extended family. They are still holding the Memorial Day Parade even now! I want to write more in the next blog entry about that trip and the memories it stimulated.

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