Memorial Day – Remembering the Loved Ones of the Dead

Some people say the loved ones at home suffer more than their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents, and other family members who die in a war. Who suffers the most after a death is not a contest; no bragging rights here. The dead are gone: what they feel, or if they feel, is unknown to us. The soldiers who return with their memories of the horrors they saw and the family and friends of those who died will mourn the dead for years–perhaps a lifetime.

To my knowledge, I knew one person (Mike) who died in Vietnam. Others who served on the USS Ranger (CVA61) with me were also casualties of war. I think of them on Memorial Day. As I’ve written on this blog before (with nasty sarcasm) remembering the dead seems more important to me than making the rounds of bricks-and-mortar and online Memorial Day sales. (“Dad died, so now’s a good time to get 25% off a new riding mower.)

I found Mike’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial. I hadn’t expected the power and sadness of seeing his name there or, in fact, seeing the 58,318 names on the wall at that time. I visited the Tomb of the Unknowns when I was a child and as an adult, I’ve been to battlefields and cemeteries where the dead rest (presumably) in peace. Visiting these sites strengthened my respect for Memorial Day.

The intent of Memorial Day, which began as Declaration Day in 1869 to honor the dead from the Civil War, doesn’t officially extend to the widows, widowers, and other family left at home. Perhaps it should. Dying in war is often called “the ultimate sacrifice.” I’m not so sure. I think those who come home with mental and physical wounds, memories they cannot undo, PTSD, and a future that includes living as one invisible in a cardboard home under a bridge might be making the ultimate sacrifice by surviving. So, too, the family left at home.

We can think of them on this day for the losses they suffered but are seldom acknowledged for suffering.



The Flooers of the Forest

My ancestors play this Scot’s lament for me on Memorial Day, and though it’s forever a reminder of the country’s loss to the English at the battle of Flodden, in September 1513, I cannot help thinking that after every battle in every war the flower of the nation’s youth will not be coming home.

Here’s the song as I hear it. I’ve added some translations at the end.

I’ve heard the liltin at oor yowe-milkin,
Lassies a-liltin before break o day
Now there’s a moanin on ilka green loanin –
The Flooers o the Forest are a’ wede awa

At buchts, in the mornin, nae blythe lads are scornin,
Lassies are lanely and dowie and wae
Nae daffin, nae gabbin, but sighin and sabbin,
The Flooers o the Forest are a’ wede awa

In hairst at the shearin, nae youths now are jeerin,
Bandsters are lyart and runkled and gray
At fair or at preachin, nae wooin, nae fleechin –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

At e’en at the gloamin, nae swankies are roamin
‘Bout stacks wi the lassies at bogle tae play
But ilk ane sits dreary, lamentin her deary –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

Dule and wae for the order, sent oor lads to the Border
The English, for aince, by guile wan the day
The Flooers of the Forest, that focht aye the foremost
The prime o our land, lie cauld in the clay

We hear nae mair liltin at oor yowe-milkin
Women and bairnies are heartless and wae
Sighin and moanin on ilka green loanin –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

buchts=cattle pens
swankies=young lads
dule=mourning clothes