The line of march ambled along Main Street, with flags waving, bunting blowing, high school bands banging and blaring, veterans limping proudly, Scouts and Brownies keeping pace, and thousands lining the sidewalks, applauding as they offered lemonade and cookies on a bright, blistering morning.
It could have been any town in America, but it was my town, and these were my neighbors, known and unknown. Thank God for Memorial Day!
If you grew up, as I did, amid the Vietnam War protests in the 1960s, which led to a mainstream dissatisfaction with all war in the 1970s, you’ll know why the persistence of Memorial Day parades is a great victory of the spirit within our country. If the drab mentality of the cynical 70s had won out, there would be no more such parades honoring our war dead, as well as the service of the soldiers and sailors still with us. The monuments engraved with names of the fallen in countless town squares throughout our land would long ago have been toppled or overgrown with weeds, and we would have to suffer lectures each Memorial Day on the evils of armed aggression.
But something happened on the way to that future. Somewhere along the long road to decline, America broke out of a thoughtless torpor and remembered its founding and its mission. We realized that conflict among people and between nations is the closest thing to inevitable in this world, and that sometimes a fight can be a force for good.
Yes, we hate war – every one of us who marched under our respective civic banners, and each one of those who cheered us along. We hate war for its distortions, its excesses, its injustices and its inevitable consequence of sending back dead and maimed young men to their families and to the towns that build them monuments.
But we also know that war has the power to protect, to correct and sometimes even to right the wrong. We can debate the conditions of just war, and the prudence or effectiveness of this or that tactic, but in the world as we know it now, there will be war. We have to prepare for it, if we are to survive as a nation and a people, for the sake of our families and children. We all saw this clearly on Sept. 11, 2001.
Though so many in the media would like to dust aside the attacks of that day, the people in the towns of America will not forget. They are decent people who know that it is good to remember.
As I marched with my two boys amid the Cub Scouts down Main Street, I saw that America was strong because Americans still honor sacrifice and service, even in memoriam.