Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

Annamaria on a Holiday Monday

Today's holiday used to be called Decoration Day and began as a day to decorate the graves  of the fallen in war, starting with the Civil War here in the USA.  Many towns and cities in the country have claimed to be the birthplace of the tradition.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson awarded that official honor to the village of Waterloo, New York.  Now part of Seneca Falls, a small, out-of-the-way place that also happened to be the scene of the first US Women's Rights Convention in 1848.

These days, when so many have and still are falling in a pandemic, I have been thinking of how we might memorialize them.  The New York Times front page this Sunday has begun to attempt such a daunting task.  Perhaps every town and village will have to have its own monument.  Here is as much of today's front page as I can manage to display.

The sub-headline says:
 "They Were Not Simply
 Names on a List.
They Were Us."

In the traditional spirit of Memorial Day for the fallen in war, I share my post from three years ago.  The good thing about writing of history, as I am always fond of saying, is that it never goes out of date.   

I am thinking of World War Two, the war that shaped my young life, so my post today will be highly personal one.  Here are some images that tell of the people who fought, the people who worked and prayed on the home front, of one who did not come back and one who did.

Here is the data; the numbers are in MILLIONS:

Here is the moral of the story:

 Here are my personal remembrances:

My brother Andy and me (c.1945), wearing hats that belonged to our uncles.

My vague earliest memories are of saying our good-byes and of how tense my mother and my grandmother were for all those years.

A flag like this hung in the front window of the two-family house that my family shared with my grandparents.  Ours had five stars, for my dad and for four of my mother's brothers.  They were all blue until the last year of the war.

Our gold star was for my godfather John Pisacane, who served in Patton's army and then in a tank battalion under General Eisenhower.  He was killed during the push to Berlin.

I was lucky enough to get my daddy back.  Sam always felt to me like the guardian angel that he appears as in this post-war trip to the beach.  I'm the little girl on the right next to my brother Andy.

The other children are my cousins Jimmy, Joann, and Tony.

I longed for my daddy so much for the years while he was gone that images of returning soldiers still move me to tears.

Every year, on Memorial Day I watch this clip from the incredible TV documentary series. Victory at Sea.  If you don't see the link, PLEASE find it on YouTube: Victory at Sea Episode 26 Part 3--
Don't miss the footage of joyful reunions after years of separation.

I have to go now.  I watched it again, and I am weeping.


  1. Thank you Annamaria.

    I can't imagine what it was like to be the family of a man at war. The unending stress. The fear of a knock at the door. The dreaded telegram.

    My mother's first husband (of only a couple of years) flew bombers for the South African Air Force and was shot down near Sicily. He died aboard an American ship. His son - my brother - never knew his father.

    "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them."

  2. With your gift for empathy, Stan, you describe the experience perfectly. All those waiting women. My heart breaks for the ones, like your mother, who got the awful news. Today we are supposed to remember the dead, but I also think a great deal about the ones who lived with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

  3. I watched it. I sobbed too. Memories of uncles, fathers. A different time. But I remembered.

    But from European Parliament elections, a sad proportion of Europe seems to have forgotten. They should never forget.

  4. For me, one of the most painful scenes from a movie was the opening to "Saving Private Ryan," where we see a lonely mother washing dishes in a dim farmhouse kitchen, and through the window we see a black car come driving up the road...

    Jeff: Unfortunately, all too many humans seem unable to learn from history, and especially not from history that preceded their own birth. All that matters is what THEY themselves have personally experienced and what's important to them, to their comfort. They're incapable of seeing the larger picture, the longer canvas, of giving as well as receiving. Sigh.

  5. Jeff, I was thinking of you when I watched the end of the clip with the celebrations of the victory over fascism. And EvKa, my thoughts were identical to what you have written here. How many deaths does it take till they know that too many people have died? When will they learn, when will they ever learn?


    If you want to keep weeping, listen to this.

  7. A great, apropos, timeless piece of writing and singing by a guy my wife sang with in folk clubs in her high school days, and whom I was lucky enough to meet in my twenties:

    1. That is one I did not know, Lenny. Thank you for telling us about it. My father the WWII combat Marine came back a pacifist after fighting in the Pacific. I am proud that he served, but even prouder of his post war philosophy. "War is the stupidest, evilest way to answer a question that man could ever invent. No one who has eve actually fought in a war would ever start one."

  8. I lived on the beach of Norfolk during WW2 and we used to pick up all kinds of things that had washed up from the Nazi subs, including body parts. We saw the young Nazis riding around town in Navy trucks and used to want to kill them... it was a terrible, terrible time Thelma Straw in Manhattan, now fearful of what is happening with V. Putin et co.

    1. Thelma, we played war when I was a child. I was three, four. My brother was five, six. It was all anyone talked about so it was our game of choice. What did we war babies know? How painful it is to think of the many children who are living in war zones right this minute.

  9. Beautiful piece, Annamaria. My dad prized his military service, and yet it tore him apart. He was too young for what he experienced. He never got over it.

  10. Lisa, My dad was older--the guys in his unit were six, eight years younger than he. Because he already had two kids, they called him "pappy." But those extra years did not insulate him from trauma. For a few years just before he died at age 94, he finally started to tell his war stories to me and my husband. One day he ended a story, by looking at me and saying, "I spent my life trying to forget all this. But I never did."

  11. My uncles served in the war, but both came home. I think the war traumatized so many people.

    A close friend's step-father was in the middle of Europe in uniform, and said he lost all religious feeling because he said the war was so horrific all around him.

    But I also think about the 58,000 soldiers who died in the Vietnam war, and the thousands of soldiers killed and mained and suffering with PTSD who'd been in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I cry, too, whenever I see a family has lost a loved one, children have lost a parent or parents a child or a spouse their partner. Or when I see a severely injured veteran who will need to be taken care of for the rest of his/her life.

    I can't fathom it. The loss of life and health -- physical and mental -- seems so horrific, and these wars so unneeded, and at what cost to humanity?

    I don't say this about WWII; as horrible as it was. Even though I and so many people oppose war, that one did have to be fought.

    But it's youth who suffer, those from here and abroad and then civilians in several other countries.

    Yes, i weep over this, the losses here and in other countries, too.

  12. Lovely blog. I think only those who have been touched by war can know how truly awful it is. And as a war slips from living memory.....

    1. Thank you, Caro. You are right. Firsthand memories of World War II are fading fast. What's even more distressing is how many firsthand memories are being made right now. I'm proud I was raised by a pacifist combat vet.

  13. Thank you for sharing your memories. It's so important for people to share things like this - despite it being difficult sometimes - both because it preserves and shares such important history and (hopefully) helps us not to repeat the tragedy of wars.

    1. Thank you, Susan. My pacifism remains strong, despite the assault my principles receive from violence of out times. Retributive violence only begets more....

  14. You and your dad both have much to be proud of in each other!

    1. My father's love saw me through a lot of tsuris, Bro. He really was that guy in the photo, and I still try to be the person he taught me to be.

  15. I'm glad I was raised by anti-war parents, too, and was brought to national protests against the Vietnam war by my father. And my mother did her share of protesting, too, in her own way.

    However, things seem to be heating up more and more. More bombing, famine, cholera, children in danger, families desperate through no fault of their own, displaced, impoverished, etc.

    And it seems like the near future is gram even though the majority of humanity wants to live in peace.

  16. Meant the near future is "grim."

  17. OK, another weeper here. I had not seen the return by sailors. Very moving.
    Yes, and I was raised by anti-war parents, and taken to anti-Vietnam war protests. My parents protested the Korean war. And later, I demonstrated against the Iraq war.

    Your father sounds like a wonderful human beings. I remember his anecdoates about horrors in Okinawa when he was stationed there.

    And I don't only think about lost lives of U.S. soldiers, but about the Vietnamese who lost 3 million people, the millions of dead and displaced Iraqis, the orphaned, homeless children, the many migrants today fleeing war and other violence.

    I wish everyone believed as your father did that war is the evilest thing. I knew someone who was stationed in Europe in WW II, and he returned an atheist, as he said there could not be a god, seeing the destruction around him.

    Unfortunately, war is still an option. International hostilities are growing. I wish that was not so. I also wish people learned from the past, but there are strong global motives at play beyond our scope.

    All we can do is keep marching and protesting, and applaud the youth who do it worldwide.

    1. Thank you, Kathy. My father was modest about his gifts, but gifted in many ways. He was a hero to me.

      You are so right! Your last sentence says it all. It would be so easy to shout PHOEY and walk away. But I, for one will stay engaged, if only to lend my voice and encouragement to the young.

  18. Giving up is not an option. And as a friend once said, "cynicism is not an answer."
    Thousands of young people are out now protesting the unjust police killing (like Eric Garner) in Minneapolis. The four cops were fired. But thousands are outside, wearing their masks, despite the pandemic.