It’s not just a day off

I can remember as a snot nosed kid growing up in Nashua having the day off from school each Memorial Day. Back then it was celebrated on the actual day, versus the Monday prior. We’d have the usual school assemblies with patriotic flair and sometimes an honored veteran. We’d attend the parades, watching the marching bands and military might marching down Main Street, the likes of which oftentimes included my cousin and brother-in-law as those stepping in unison. We’d attend the ceremonies that took place near the Main Street Bridge, with 21-gun salutes fired for those who were lost in wars past. I can remember awaiting the blasts, each time readying myself for the noise, but each time getting stunned, nonetheless. Although I never thought much about it then, I now realize how lucky we were to have never had a “we regret to inform you” letter delivered to our front door.

It was a much different world back then. We had no real terrorist threat, but we did have the very real possibility of a nuclear conflict, particularly during those few days in October of 1962, what we now all know as the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can remember walking to school wondering if I’d be coming home that night. The tension was so thick you could almost slice it. We did those duck and cover drills at Temple Street School to ensure we were, “ready” (whatever that meant). Ready for a nuclear blast? Is that even possible?

But back then, as now, our military stood ready to serve. To go to battle in a moment’s notice to whatever distant place was required. To leave family, friends, cook-outs, dinners, hot showers, pets, newborns, jobs, holidays and whatever else they held close. I’ve never personally served but have the utmost respect for those who do. I’ve read many accounts of their personal sacrifices. From the bitter cold of WWII Europe to the intense heat of the Iraqi desert. From the extreme humidity of the jungles of Vietnam to the desolate outposts of Korea. Normandy, Guadalcanal, Corregidor, Bataan, Pork Chop Hill, the Tet Offensive, all gruesome and historic events. Some of us are uncomfortable when our hot water heater malfunctions. If we only knew what a luxury that, a hot meal and a comfortable night’s sleep are to someone fighting a war.

I saw a news story recently about the Honor Flights, flights conducted by non-profit organizations dedicated to transporting United States military veterans, at no cost, to Washington, DC to see the memorials of the respective wars in which they fought. What a great service this is to allow those who have never seen those monuments to experience their solitude and dignity. If nothing else, it gives each veteran a chance to reflect upon their service and each American, in a very small way, an opportunity to say thanks.

Remember, we are where we are because of people who sacrificed much, some all, to allow us this opportunity to live in freedom. As corny as it sounds to some, this is in fact the land of the free because of the brave. We all learned about Ike, Patton, Bradley and MacArthur in history class, but it was the average Joes named Smith, Brown, Johnson and the like, who gave their all on the front lines.

So, whenever you are out and about, especially this weekend, and you spot a veteran or first responder, be sure to take a few seconds to thank them for their service. It will not only make you feel good, but it will more than likely make their day as well. If you are at a cemetery, feel free to place a small flag or flower on the grave of a veteran, especially if one is undecorated.

And no matter what your personal or political beliefs may be, if you have a flag, fly it proudly. Because despite the political bickering and insanity going on in today’s media, we are all still lucky enough to be living in the greatest country on earth. God bless America.

Don Canney is a freelance writer and professional voice artist. He was born and raised in downtown Nashua with great interest in Nashua history circa 1950-1970. He now resides in Litchfield.