I only know a few veterans who give much attention to Memorial Day. I generally don’t. Don’t get me wrong — the concept of Memorial Day is beautiful. Honoring the men and women who’ve died while serving in the military is a worthy idea. But let’s face it, there’s not a lot of actual honoring going on these days. In practice, Memorial Day has become a cheap-ass way for people to ‘support the troops’ without actually having to do anything. It’s a form of emotional absolution; people wave the flag a couple times a year and say ‘Thanks for your service’ to a few folks in uniform, then they’ve done their duty and can go about their lives.
It’s not their fault. Most folks simply don’t have any skin in the game. Since we have a volunteer military, relatively few people have family serving in the armed forces. In fact, I’d suggest most people don’t even know anybody currently serving in uniform. We now have a military force comprised almost entirely of strangers. So it’s understandable that we don’t really care too much about what happens to them.
It saddens me. It annoys me. But it no longer angers me. I totally understand and I can’t really blame anybody for only paying lip service to the troops.
So in order to avoid becoming annoyed with people, I prefer to spend Memorial Day doing something non-Memorial Dayish. But yesterday, on the way from one place to another, I happened to drive through the small town of Maxwell, Iowa. And I mean small town. Population of 920, according to the last census. That’s 920 people total, living in 349 households, and belonging to 242 families.
The main road through Maxwell passes by a cemetery. And there were flags. So I made a U-turn and stopped.
I didn’t even attempt to count them. Let’s just say there were a lot of flags. Not tiny flags, like the ones they hand out at parades or most often seen in cemeteries. These were full-sized flags.
And I was moved, almost to tears. Not because of the flags themselves; the U.S. flag may be a marvel of graphic design, but it’s increasingly being used primarily as a prop. No, I was moved by the effort.
These 920 people went to a great deal of bother to put up those flags. They likely spent a sizable chunk of the town’s tiny budget to buy them. This had to involve a very real sacrifice of time and money on the part of the citizens of Maxwell. A town that small, you know most of the people living there are farmers or have farm-related jobs. I don’t know anything about farming, but it seems like this is a busy time of year for folks who do farm stuff.
But they somehow found the time — no, they made the time — to put up all those flags. Why? Because they thought Memorial Day was worth it. Because they thought we were worth it, all of us who’ve spent time in military harness. Because they think the troops are still worth it.
For the first time in years, Memorial Day meant something to me. It meant something to me because it meant something to the 920 people of Maxwell, Iowa.