Saturday, June 6, 2009

Memorial Day (Everyday?)

Before I begin, I would like to state that I am currently on a computer of a friend and neither the arrow keys nor the quotations key work on this computer. So that may interfere with my usual writing style. No major worries, though- the parentheses keys do work.

Americans generally remember June 6th as D-Day (except for Google today, who decided to instead commemorate the 25th anniversary of Tetris). For military historians (and die-hard Marines like John Edwards of MHT), the day is also associated with the success at Belleau Wood during WWI.

I have several thoughts running through my head regarding this, so bear with me. I also have been reading through several works about the idea of memory and the Civil War and I am sure that has had an influence of some of my thoughts. Working at the battlefield also influences how I perceive the world. But as a nation (a baby nation in comparison to most, at that), we have a lot of dates associated with battles, yet as a nation we only remember a few. As far as dates go, June 6th and December 7th probably rank the highest (maybe November 11th, but that was not techincally a battle, it was only related to the Great War (no quotations, so italics will have to do). As for American memory of significant battle place-names, I would argue Gettysburg, Normandy, and possibly Iwo Jima (maybe Antietam? Saipan? Fallujah?--names are usually easier to remember than dates, and I would put money on the average American remembering battle names over any specific dates) rank the highest.

Why are these dates and places important to us as a nation? Why do we remember some, but not all? Why does WWII resonate, but not WWI? According to Wikipedia (a professor*s worst nightmare, I know), there were more American casualties on Iwo than Allied casualties on D-Day. Now, stats are tricky... the first day of the Normandy invasion counts as one day- Iwo lasted over a month. Regardless, why do we remember June 6th and not days in February or March? Why do we remember Normandy over Belleau Wood?

Bill Davenport, a Middle Tennessee veteran of Iwo Jima, came into the visitor center a few days ago. It was good to talk to him and he remembered me (which always impresses me when aging folks remember faces so well). It reminded me about my thoughts when people from that generation walk in. I always wonder what did they do during the war? Did that man fight? Did that woman work in a factory? What did they see, how did they feel? When veterans of any war walk in I wonder about what it was that they saw? Maybe the veteran did not invade Normandy nor storm the beaches of Iwo Jima. It is likely, though, that there is an important day (or several) to that veteran. Another day or series of days that struck a chord with an individual that the nation as a whole neglects to remember.

I should have posted this on Memorial Day, I am sure. Memorial Day allows for us nationally to remember sacrifices and commemorate veteran heroes who have fallen. But living veterans carry their memories of the past with them every day. Fallen veterans remain fallen veterans every day- nothing changes the fact that they served their country, many giving the ultimate sacrifice. I don*t imagine anything being in the media about past wars until December 8th (except maybe on Veterans Day in November), but it will not change the past and how some carry their invisible battle scars with them daily, regardless of the nation*s collective memory.

Because I love Cy O*Brien, I wanted to post an article he wrote about Iwo. I appreciate the essence of the work. (Cy was the veteran who mocked the idea of the Japanese soldiers who stood on the beaches when we were there this past March with the signs that read something to the effect of, Danger-Keep off beaches. He said he would have stayed off the beach 64 years ago if the Japanese were holding those signs then). While the boys in Europe fought a different war than those in the Pacific, I have yet to meet any WWII vets who honestly regard themselves or their roles in the war any better than their brothers in arms.

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