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Memorial Day

Honor the holy day. Then celebrate the holiday.

Memorial Day is both a holiday and a holy day.
    On the far side of war, it’s the holiday beginning summer’s season of outdoor living, welcomed with barbecues, crab feasts and pool openings. I’m eager to plunge into that season this week or next, weather permitting. Imagining you are too, all of us here are preparing Bay Weekly’s indispensible Summer Guide to tuck inside your June 8 paper.
    On the near side of war, Memorial Day is a holy day. Dating back to the Civil War, it began as Decoration Day, when a mourning nation decorated the graves of its lost sons with the flowers of spring.
    World War I gave Memorial Day a great boost. America entered the Great War, its working title, 100 years ago, calling 4.7 million into service and sending four million men to fight along war-weary French and British soldiers.
    All must have feared what American poet Alan Seeger predicted:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air —
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

     The feelings of one of the 4.7 million, Illinoisan
A.L. Dixon, survived the century. I read in his own hand ­lonely, newsy letters he sent to my grandmother’s first cousin, Miss Cora Smith, during his 18 months of ­service. Safe from the German barrage, spared by spinal meningitis and influenza, Dix served an easy war as a quartermaster sergeant in Camp Taylor, Kentucky. But of course he did not know that going in.

December 13, 1917
    Me thinks we will soon see France and I hope so, just to get this over with. I have taken out $500 insurance and Mother may find herself rich some day soon …

April 19, 1918
    There are three stars in the home service flag now and I am some what proud of it — there will be a chance of some of us boys in the Dixon family getting shot I think. I can’t say that Mother is proud of her best soldier sons, but they are all insured for $40,000 and she had better wish us good luck in this scrap.

November 4, 1918    
    The flu was sure bad here and some few of our boys “kicked off.” It failed to land me this time so you and others will still have to keep on sending letters to Camp Taylor and trust the Huns to get me when I go across.

    Then the war was over. Dix and his brothers were lucky. Others were not. America suffered 306,000 casualties.

December 31, 1918
    There are lots of the oversea boys here in camp all wounded and all quartered at the base hospital, they must make me bawl every time I see them for some are in bad shape and one can see just what war means.

    Of the 306,000, 53,402 died in action. Among them was the poet Alan Seeger. An early volunteer with the French Foreign Legion, he kept his rendezvous with death on July 4, 1916, nine months before America entered the war.
    Disease, including the war years’ terrible flu, and other causes took 63,114 more lives.
    The War to End All Wars did not live up to its billing. Since 2001, 6,886 American warriors have died according to http://thefallen.militarytimes.com. The ­Religious Society of Friends’ count is higher.
    Memorial Day seems to serve a lasting purpose.
    In this week’s paper, we continue our remembrance of World War I, introducing storyteller Elloise Schoettler, who you can hear in person Saturday, May 27 as she recounts Unknown Stories of 64 World War I Nurses from Maryland at Chesapeake Beach’s annual Stars and Stripes Festival.
    You’ll also learn what Dix meant by three stars in the home service flag. For that, turn to Crofton Library’s Blue Star Memorial: One of an All-American Chain of Monuments to Peace, also by Diana Dinsick.
    Honor this holy day. Then celebrate the holiday.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com