Sylvania joined cities and towns across America in celebrating Memorial Day 2011 with a grand parade. Marching bands, antique cars, city officials, police and fire trucks, soldiers, sailors, and vets, and social services were represented. They marched right by our house with great fanfare – a front row seat on Robin’s front porch on Main Street Ohio.
In Ukraine, Memorial Day is 9 May, a commemoration of the end of World War II. The devastation there was brutal, the consequences dire and long-lasting. May 9 is a moving tribute to the end of the European theater of a war that saw over 20 million killed, so hard to imagine, and the land, farms, industrial sites, and great cities destroyed. At war’s end, the Nazis were overcome, but the Soviets marched into the vacuum. Ukraine endured a loss of independence and identity, its people terrorized for almost five more decades. Ukraine is just now getting on its feet, a difficult, sometimes painful transition to more self-determination. Peace Corps Volunteers bear witness to this transition and to the daily life and bravery of the Ukrainian people. May 9 remains a touchstone, a day when all Ukrainians are united in memory.
Here in the US we commemorate those who have served our country in the armed services, in foreign wars, in “good” wars and in some not so worthy. There was a time during the Vietnam war when my opposition to it overshadowed the sacrifice of the young people, average age 19 years old, who died in the jungles of a strange land. Lieutenant Dan, in Forrest Gump, played brilliantly by Gary Sinese, embodies the pain and triumphs of returning vets. We treated the returning soldiers badly, a shameful chapter in our history. The Vietnam War Memorial set the record straight, put the war’s soldiers, its victims, in perspective, made us confront a difficult past, helped us remember.
Memorial Day in America encompasses all the monuments and memories ever created for those who fought and gave their lives. It reminds us as well that peace is the hardest challenge, and the greatest gift, of all.