It's Memorial Day today. As I write this, President Obama is honoring the war dead at Arlington National Cemetery. Parades are being held across the country, in cities both large and small, including our 'burb here in Chicagoland. Parades are my personal Kryptonite - they are my undoing and I can't watch them, attend them, whatever. So no parade-going here. Mercifully.
Instead, I got up and headed over to Blackwell Forest Preserve and got in a 4.35 mile run. Blackwell was far less crowded than Herrick was on Saturday so it gave me the opportunity to think about this day as I ran. As a victim of the US public educational system, if I depended on what I was taught in elementary and high school, I'd think that Memorial Day was a day for honoring all the animals that get slaughtered for the myriad BBQ's that go down on this day. Alas, I know differently - thanks to a good college education and a fairly insatiable desire to read and learn more about the sacrifice of so many who have fought for our collective freedom.
My interest in those who fought for us was sparked when I first read Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation." Brokaw beautifully details the actions and sacrifices of those who fought in World War II. He captured their decency and their dedication to their country.
I was stunned by these men and women and was basically ashamed of my spoiled, self-centered generation. I cannot fathom my high school graduating class dropping everything and going off to war the way these people did. Good Pete, half my graudating class wouldn't have moved unless they knew there was coke around the corner (and by coke I am not referring to a lovely frosty beverage).
After reading Brokaw's book and the volumes that followed, I got caught up in HBO's production of Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers." Ambrose can basically do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. He wrote extensively about World War II and did so in a way that took you straight into the battlefield as well as into the minds of those that were fighting. Incredible writer. The producers of "Band of Brothers" were no crowd of slouches either - Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. they produced a stunning look at the men of Easy Company and what they experienced. I got the whole production on DVD for Father's Day several years ago and it is one that I go back to time and again. Every time it's on the History Channel, I stop and watch.
My desire to learn more about those that for us does not stop with World War II. I've delved into the histories of Vietnam and have lost count of the number of books I've read about our current situation in Iraq. There's one book that could not be more appropriate for Memorial Day. I posted about it last year here. Final Salute is a searing and stunning look into the return of the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan to their families.
It's also an unflinching tribute to those that died. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Read it. It will make this day mean so much more. HBO produced a film called "Taking Chance" about the experience of returning one of the fallen soldiers home. I've not had an opportunity to see it. I hope it's impactful.
I'm thankful for those that have fought for the freedom that we enjoy and take for granted here. May they be rewarded for what they've done.