On this the 139th Decoration Day, which of late goes under the name of Memorial Day, this writer too wonders who is the happy warrior. Methinks, as Wordsworth hinted, the real happy warrior lies in boyish thoughts and aspirations that fade with maturity.
There are countless warriors of our country to remember and give thanks to on this Memorial Day, dating from the French and Indian Wars to the current conflict in Iraq. I dare say that few of them were happy. War is not about happiness, even for the victors.
There is the jubilation of victory after the big battle, or once the war is won. But the happiness of the moment lies more in the cessation of the hell of fighting. Then comes the time to assess the cost of victory.
Winning does not bring back among us those who died on the field or the sea, whose last lonely breaths were to Heaven’s applause, nor does it mend the maimed, repair the wreckage and rebuild lives and hope. As Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman put it after his long march to the sea, which pretty much wrapped up the War of the States: “War is at best barbarism. … War is hell.”
One cannot help but think of how harmonious our world would be if all the monetary and other costs of war were instead diverted to famine, health, the environment, individual freedoms and pursuits of happiness, But human society being what it is, sadly there is no escaping war as a means to settle ethnic, political, religious, geographic and so many other conflicts on this globe.
At this time, some of our citizen soldiers of Anne Arundel and Calvert counties are tidying up their affairs. Soon they will be in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they will not be happy warriors. They are going because they have been called upon by their country to go. It is not their option to question duty.
Most don’t want to go. Some are reinforced within by other words of General Sherman: “The legitimate object of war is a more perfect peace.” Within every fighting man there is the hope that his mission will bring that more perfect peace.
Then, he and today she can be as happy a warrior as a warrior can be. But peace even would it endure forever cannot wipe away memories of the devastation and loneliness of war. A warrior can feel pride and satisfaction of a job well done, but truly happy, not for long. True happiness comes in other pursuits in life.
Decoration Day became Memorial Day in part to occasion a special memorial observance for those who fought pirates in Tripoli to those fighting in Baghdad.
When I was a kid, it was still Decoration Day, and its name still implied as it did on May 5, 1868 a day to decorate the graves of those who served. At Acotes Hill Cemetery back in New England, no veteran’s grave rested without flowers, a wreath or an American flag,
What does that mean to those beneath? They’re dead.
Such remembrances are a tribute to service, and not only for those who gave their life in the fight for peace and the others who later passed away as former warriors. They’re reminders to passersby of the many who left their homes to go to war. In these times, we need such reminders.
Lest we forget.
Scouts Keep the Faith
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts of the Capital District which includes Anne Arundel County don’t, and won’t, forget on this Memorial Day weekend. I have some words for them as they make their rounds Friday at the Veterans’ Cemetery in Annapolis, then on Saturday at the Veterans’ Cemetery in Crownsville, where 4,000 have been laid to rest.
Undoubtedly there will be a few misty eyes. One of their own will be honored at the observance in Crownsville. Marine Corps Maj. Rick Gannon, Cub Master of Pack 366, Annapolis, from 2000 to 2002, was killed April 17, 2004, in Anbar Province, Iraq, near the Syrian border. He died rescuing a fellow wounded marine, one of 350 under his command.
There will be a special presentation of the James E. West Fellowship Award to his widow Sally, compliments of Keith O’Kelly of Chesapeake Protective Services. Then buglers will play Taps to end the formal ceremonies.
To those young scouts who crossed paths with Major Gannon before he went off to war, I say don’t fight the tears. Let them flow. Don’t be ashamed. I’m in my 81st year, and I have never come across a fellow veteran who thought it necessary to apologize for wet eyes when the last strain of the eerie bugle call fades from afar.
Scouts: Taps, originally meant for drums, is still played in the military at the end of the day, lights out. But the full significance of Taps is felt deep in the heart when played after the honor guard’s salute when a warrior’s lights have gone out.
Scouts: After Taps, make your rounds, place a small flag at each and every gravesite, and as you do so, realize that in that hallowed mound lay the remains of one who served our country. Consider yourself honored that you have the privilege of saying thanks via that flag. It matters not the name on the slab. In a way, the warriors are all like Maj. Rick Gannon. They served.
Some were lucky, some weren’t.
Keep in mind, they once were like you, young, carefree and with dreams to fulfill. But lives have many twists and turns, and they were called. Most came back and resumed their lives; others were like American poet Alan Seegar, best known for his “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.”
Rendezvous with Death
Romantics would tell us of the glories of war, the happy warriors, but think of this 28-year-old poet mired in the trenches of France in World War I; in a premonition of death, writing
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade
When spring comes round with rustling shade
And apple blossoms fill the air.
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
One finds no happiness in this warrior’s verse, but neither is there complaint nor thoughts of shirking in Seegar’s poem, considered one of the greatest of that war. As he feared, he kept his rendezvous, killed in action on the Fourth of July, 1916.
He is one of millions we honor this weekend.