Posted by: deadmousediaries | May 26, 2017

Pressing Pause on This Holiday Weekend

I love browsing second hand shops. It’s like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you stumble across exactly what you didn’t yet know you wanted. Other times it’s an odyssey and you uncover something you wish you hadn’t found.

I had that kind of encounter two weeks ago while browsing in a vintage jewelry store in Cumberland County. Under glass in the lone men’s case was an artifact that neither of my traveling companions even found remarkable. I recognized it instantly thanks to my friend and WWII veteran Gregg Davis. It was a Purple Heart. When he had handed me the one he had earned, he did it with honor and humility and he shared his story.

Unlike the first one I had ever seen, the medal in the shop had been abandoned by everyone who knew its story. It was meaningless, looked tawdry, set out for sale among the tie tacks and cuff links. I paused only a moment before stepping away. It made me sad. A soldier somewhere had been wounded in combat to have earned that honor and now there was no one left to remember or to care.

By the end of that week, I realized I could have rescued that soldier from obscurity by simply asking to see the back of the medal. Most Purple Hearts have the soldier’s name inscribed. The military engraves it if is presented posthumously and if not, most recipients or the family choose personal engraving after the presentation. The Purple Heart registry would have been the perfect place to start my research and if there had been no inscription, the Purple Hearts Reunited organization could have stepped in to help. 

A few days later I called the store owner to inquire about an engraving and paused again. It had been sold. I wish I had called sooner.

Gregg Davis has a talent for weaving history together in a way that makes it meaningful and so does my son but as a student, I hated that subject. With no disrespect to all my teachers who tried to help me find it fascinating, I didn’t. That’s pretty ironic for someone who has grown into storyteller and can never hear too much now about the way things were. In classes, I studied historical names, places and dates in a way my son studied other subjects, a method he branded R-LETTT, remember long enough to take test. 

We’re approaching Memorial Day again and it’s thanks to my son that I remember some history others probably tried to teach me. Do you recognize the name Hiram Maxim? Probably not but he introduced the machine gun in 1884. In 1897 live demonstrations prompted the New York Times to write about these “terrible automatic engines of war.” The story continued: “These are the instruments that have revolutionized the methods of warfare and because of their devastating effects, have made nations and rulers give greater thought to the outcome before entering…They are peace-producing and peace-retaining terrors.”

Did nations and rulers pause to give greater thought when they saw the potential for devastation? They did think about it but not in the way the Times had envisioned. By the beginning of WWI in 1914, machine guns were in full military use and we all know how that turned out.

Somewhere in class, I was supposed to learn about the Treaty of Versailles, too. What I don’t remember hearing about the final chapter of WWI on June 28, 1919, was the prophecy from French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces. Foch believed the Treaty was too lenient on Germany and was vocal about it. “This is not peace,” he is quoted as saying. “This is an amnesty for 20 years.” Others might have paused to hear him. The world was thrown into WWII on September 1, 1939. He was off by 64 days.

Monday is Memorial Day, a time to honor all the men and women who fought and died for our freedom. Along with parades, ceremonies and the posting of colors everywhere, we also fill the day with beach trip plans, steaks on the grill, summer sandal BOGOs and mattress warehouse sales. What if we all took time to pause and truly honor our fallen this one time a year as they do in Warsaw, Poland?

For one full minute at noon, every August 1st, the entire city of Warsaw comes to a standstill. Traffic stops, workers pause, pedestrians halt in their tracks as alarms blare and flares fill the city with smoke. It happens in remembrance of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the largest single confrontation waged by resistance forces during WWII. The record keepers tell us that 16,000 Polish resistance fighters died and nearly 200,000 civilians were executed. At the end of 63 days of fighting, 85% of the city had been destroyed.

It’s hard for me to imagine the eerie feeling of radio silence here for one full minute, much less no one on their phones and no agitated drivers honking horns because stalled traffic has delayed them. As an American, it’s even harder to imagine the deafening sounds rolling through my town like the ones that racked Warsaw during its annihilation. 

I suppose it’s best that we each claim a different minute to say thank you, but what if our fire sirens sounded and church bells rang out together on the chance we have forgotten? The important thing is that we interrupt our regular programming on a Monday holiday to pause and be grateful, remembering why we call it Memorial Day. Of course that’s only my opinion.  MK

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Responses

  1. Just imagine…
    I don’t even have words to comment. I do, however, like the idea of fire sirens blaring and church bells ringing. Somewhere along the line this country has lost all that…remembering. Many people don’t even seem to understand why it’s important to remember. Great story! I hope that purple heart fell into the hands of someone as caring as you. It saddened me, as well, to hear there was a purple heart for sale in someone’s shop.

  2. Once again, thank you.

    So many people told me “Happy Memorial Day Weekend”………..I know their intentions were well meant. Their wishes were for good. But, it is humbling to know WHY there is this holiday. I am really tired of the Memorial Day “Sales”…………I agree, this country, in all the dysfunction and political correctness that is going on, has truly come close to forgetting what this day is really about.

    My father received the Bronze Star for his service. It leaves me speechless when I read the paperwork for why he received that honor.

    We, as citizens of the United States of America, have much to be thankful for.

    Thank you for this thought provoking piece of wisdom.


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