Memorial Day Two Ways
In tribute to the dead, in celebration of living
You’re used to Bay Weekly as the good news paper. So this week’s issue, commemorating Memorial Day, may startle you. In it you will confront images, names and particulars of 19 men who lost their lives in military service over the dozen years we have been fighting the War on Terror. All are Chesapeake neighbors so, whether we knew them or not, their images open the doors of our hearts.
They came home to houses on our streets, went to our schools, drove our roads, saw the same sights we see, shared our place under the sky, built the community where we, too, have invested. Because of this unity of place, and because they gave their lives and met their deaths in our nation’s cause, they have a call on us.
So we are riveted by these images, casual or formal shots that have become relics. In looking, we see a human life, make a salute of recognition, offer a prayer of thanks.
Some of you will see far more. You will see a son, a husband, a father, a friend, a classmate, a colleague, a comrade, a neighbor.
I hope you, in whose lives these men belonged, will tolerate our standing behind you to offer our regards on this solemn day.
Our choice to borrow and print these images was a considered one.
We’re smack in the mainstream of America in celebrating Memorial Day as the much-anticipated beginning of summer. The day’s official placement on the fourth Monday of May makes the consequent three-day weekend an irresistible invitation to play.
Memorial Day has another purpose, however. Officially, it is a day of commemoration, honoring all the men and women who have died in service to our nation, particularly in war. Over the years, all veterans have come to be included in the day’s embrace.
We celebrate this day in late spring because that season gives us the flowers to decorate the graves where those men and women’s bodies lie.
In my girlhood, Decoration Day, May 30, was the occasion of a family drive from St. Louis to small-town Illinois cemeteries. We would read our way through the stones in search of graves of men taken by war. At Wilson Cemetery in Batchtown, cousin Cora Smith had so long a memory that she could remember the occupants and tell their stories. We’d stop at their graves in reverie, then extend our decoration of all our family who laid there.
In Bay Weekly time, our much-loved outdoors columnist Bill Burton, a Seabee in World War II, admonished us to do right by Memorial Day. His column for that week seldom failed to mention his boyhood friend Henry Beckwith, whose lot it was to die in war while he, Burton, lived.
So much hero worship was within this writer that … I ran away from home intent on doing the next closest thing to flying with the RAF. Word was the Royal Canadian Air Force didn’t check ages of enlistees, and RCAF was already flying missions from England, where my closest high school friend, Henry Beckwith, was soon to die when his plane was shot down.
It was only by chance that he headed to the Atlantic, while I headed to the Pacific.
Henry was still in his teens when his plane went down: no wife, no children, not even a steady girlfriend. His mother and father are long gone, and no one is left to remember him on Memorial Day. It only seemed appropriate that as taps was played, his name should be mentioned aloud, if only by me, to let it be known that his sacrifice was appreciated.
So Bill, now that you’ve followed Henry to the grave, we’ll say his name for you this year. And we’ll live up to your standard with the small photographic tribute to the sacrifice and loss of our Chesapeake neighbors.
I hope, dear reader, you will see tribute in these pages and speak these names as you look at each picture.
On the Other Hand
We also bring you the good news you expect in this week’s paper. Here in Diana Beechener’s marvelous story aptly titled The Comeback Kids, you’ll read about the inspiring Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team coming to Chesapeake Country June 1 to defeat a team of NFL players.
You’ll also find 40 pages of summer good times in our 2013 Summer Fun Guide, which gives you things to do and places to go on all 101 days of summer.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher