Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day

It’s already started: media advertising inundation announcing Memorial Day sales. It is bad enough that every holiday is turned into a shopping opportunity, but converting Memorial Day to a quick buck is especially disturbing. How many of us will stop to remember, pay homage to the millions who have given life or limb, or have made extraordinary sacrifices to establish our freedoms and protect them? Instead, we head off to the malls or the beach and hardly give a thought to the true meaning of the day. “Lennar Homes announces a Sell-a-thon Memorial Day Weekend Savings!!!”

I think of my father, just a “regular Joe” as he described himself, newly married and having a young son (me), who like so many others went off to WWII. It was not something he wanted to do, and he was ill prepared for the experience. As he said at the conclusion of the war with many soldiers being held in Europe for possible police action, “my desire is so strong, the urge so great to be able to come home again.” But he made those sacrifices.

He never talked much about the war. Maybe that was because he had seen atrocities filming one of the concentration camps at the war’s end as a Signal Corps photographer. Stars and Stripes featured a photograph OF him in one of its pages: “Signal Corps cameraman T/4 Robert Hagelstein, assigned to Ninth Army, ignores the German warning, ‘photography forbidden,’ to shoot movies of activities along the Rhine River March 5, 1945.”,%20Fall/Fall%2001/images/NONO.JPG

Thanks to some of his letters I know how he felt about making the sacrifices of those years:

I, on the other hand, through a number of coincidences, never served in the armed forces. I was married before the VietNam conflict escalated and although I had planned to go into the US Army Reserve, President Kennedy then declared married men “3A” so I did not enlist. By the time they were calling up married men, I already had a son, and continued to be deferred from the draft. Truthfully, I was greatly relieved at the time. But friends of mine were called, and today I feel a sense of self-reproach about not having been among them.

This heightens my great respect for those who served and I think we as a nation owe more to them than just a tip of the hat and a Sell-a-thon. And, I think it behooves us to reflect on the ideals and freedoms our founding fathers so valiantly and brilliantly struggled to establish. David McCullough’s magnificent biography of John Adams provides a behind the scenes view of the birth of our nation and those sacrifices.

“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” -- John Adams