Every Memorial Day in high school, I played Taps at the main local cemeteries as part of the VFW ceremony. I was a shy kid, so I liked to do the echo part. The other trumpeter would stand with the celebrants and observers, and I would repeat each line from behind a hill. Then I’d hunker down and try not to listen to the salutes, which never worked.
Hearing the gun salutes and seeing the widows made the Memorial Day parades afterwards less fun. How is anyone supposed to enjoy dressing up in a militaristic uniform and marching to silly songs after such a contemplation of carnage? No amount of star-spangled wrapping hides the blood leaking out around the hems. People died, violently, far before they should have. That’s nothing to have a parade over.
Today, I went up the road to the little cemetery where my ancestors are buried. There weren’t any little flags by the headstones, but there should have been: at least one for each of the American wars, maybe minus the War of 1812 and the Spanish-American War. I don’t think the local VFW makes it all the way up here, though. I wish I had brought my trumpet along- this little cemetery doesn’t get serenaded by anyone but the birds, but it should.
If I ruled the world, Memorial Day would be serious business for everyone. No parades, no floats, no banners, no pretending that violence is something to be celebrated. Just salutes and widows, and thinking about the cousins we could have had if their great-great-grandfathers had lived.
Don’t remember the dead as an exercise in patriotism. Patriotism has its own holiday: the Fourth of July. Today, remember the dead because the shortening of their lives was the cost of injustice. Remember the dead in order to commit yourself to take the preservation and celebration of life seriously.
This song is largely irrelevant, but I like it.