What ever happened to good old-fashioned patriotism? With two of our most important national remembrance days coming up, it wouldn't hurt us to look back at how it used to be.
Most who read this can remember the days of World War I, whether we fought in the trenches or did our bit by collecting peach pits from our playmate for gas mask-filler. Young as some of us were, we pridefully acclaimed the nation's efforts to whip Kaiser Bill, his Boche hosts and maybe get in a lick against Trotsky to boot. We remember the influenza epidemics, gold stars in windows, black veils and crepe armbands.
We dimly recall all that now, but Decoration Day, as it was known in the early 1920's, was a vivid, shell-spangled glorification of the national honor.
By this time the boys were home from 'over there,' had formed the American Legion: what was left of the G.A.R. was invited to join, as were some rare veterans of the Spanish-American War. In our eyes these men were heroes, without exception, and this day was set aside to honor the living and revere the dead. All had served in a noble cause, no doubt about it.
If you've forgotten, no community too small, no city too large forgot the commemorative event. Everyone participated; to not appear was almost treasonous, might even indicate Bolshevik leanings.
There'd be first a Union Service in the city park, the local Legion Post discreety stacking their 30-'06 Springfield rifles behind the Civil War monument. Patriotic airs, such as 'Columbia the Gem of the Ocean' or Kipling's 'Lest We Forget' were toot led by the band, followed by a chorus of pretty maids in white tulle who renkered 'My Country This of Thee.' Then several prayers eulogizing 'the fallen', mixed with pleas for divine intercession for guidance to 'make the world safe for Democracy.' All this in spite of much disenchantment with Wilson so that 'he kept us out of war,' was never mentioned. It was General 'Black Jack' Pershing who got the most credit.
The highlight of the morning, however, was the big parade. Not just an ordinary parade not going much of any place, but this one for a purpose, to honor the heroic dead. Again, everyone took part.
Actually, the marching solemn column outnumbered the spectators, who usually joined at the end of the parade as they approached the cemetery. And mind you, they all walked, no cars, only a buggy or two and one horse which was ridden by the highest-ranking officer to be found.
Even the Civil War veterans insisted they totter along, at least part of the way, the horse-drawn buggies picking them up when they needed help. 'Way back there'd be a contingent of Red Cross ladies, but ahead of them the Gold Star Mothers and War Widows in black; interspersed were moppets in white with armloads of sweet-scented lilacs, fluffy snowballs, sprays of spirea and fern, maybe some late violets.
Up front was the color guard, and the Eagle Scout honored to carry the Stars and Stripes was a figure we envied. You had to be worthy in every moral fibre to even touch that sacred emblem, we thought. In those days, too, we could sing at least four stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner without hesitation, and the Pledge of Allegiance rolled off our lips as easily as the Lord's Prayer, and about as sacred too.
On the way out the band melodies were of the quieter kind. As flowers were placed on graves of departed heroes, these became dirges. With much dipping of the flag, many sighs and tears, a final rifle salute to their departed comrades, the marchers formed again for the walk back to town.
Now the band got joyfully jubilant, blaring out quick-stepping tunes such as 'Hail Columbia, Happy Land;' 'Stars and Stripes Forever,' 'Columbia the Gem of the Ocean' and who hears them now? and all the other John Phillip Sousa rousers for which the trumpets and drums had energy? It was pretty soul-stirring to say the least.
It signified much. We were proud of our country. We paid honest tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As boys and girls we resolved in our hearts that America the Beautiful, Democracy, Freedom, Motherhood and the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave' were worth martydrom, if need be. No sacrifice would be too great to save Our Nation.