Memorial Day weekend exhaustion

Memorial Day weekend is a time for somber reflection on the price paid for the freedom and sovereignty of our nation.

This year somber reflection felt a lot like sheer exhaustion. I’m in the process of moving to our new house. For weeks I’ve been taking carloads of everything portable to the new place, and soon I’ll rent a truck to move the furniture.

Exhaustion, fatigue. I think of that and I remember what my mother said after she’d watched Ken Burns documentary The War.

She remembered the war. She was in nursing school and was commissioned as a Navy nurse just before it ended. She remembered shortages, rationing, and Gold Star mothers.

American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. was a private non-profit organization chartered in the First World War consisting of mothers who’d lost a child in the war. The name came from the custom of service families hanging a banner called a service flag in the windows of their homes with a blue star for every member in the Armed Forces, and a gold star for every member killed in the line of duty.

While the organization still exists I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a service banner in my lifetime. I think this generation might think it a bit macabre.

Like everybody in her generation she followed the events via movie newsreels. Newsreels allowed people to feel closer to the front than ever before. But they didn’t realize how heavily censored the films were.

I’ve seen footage of the carnage they were not allowed to see. Dead men placed in body bags a piece at a time. But what she noticed in Burns’ documentary was the faces of the living men at the front.

“My God how tired they looked!” she said.

You see the faces, lean and lined with fatigue and realize with a shock that these men were men in their teens and early twenties.

And I wonder are we exhausted, as a nation and a civilization?

Are we tired of mounting guard on the free world and keeping the sea lanes open?

Are we tired of the casualties in wars whose purpose is unclear, whose painfully won gains are casually wiped out in a matter of days?

My son is now of an age to consider enlisting, and he tells me all of his friends currently serving tell him not to.

And I think of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Recessional’ written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, a somber poem that went against the grain of the optimism of the time.

God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine–

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget–lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The Captains and the Kings depart:

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget–lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget–lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law–

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget–lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,

For frantic boast and foolish word–

Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

— Steve Browne is longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent


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