Decoration Day

The last Monday in May is Memorial Day - previously known as Decoration Day - aptly named for the practice of putting flowers, flags and generally patriotic memorabilia at the graves of those who died in War defending our country.  It started as a practice at the end of our Civil War and in the North and as the Armies of the Confederacy weren't fighting for the country but literally against it.  Cooler heads prevailed and within a country that can't seem to go a decade without loss from War and the overall filling of cemeteries as a result has somewhat blurred the whole thing - perhaps for the good but the "who fought who" at the start of this has been laid to rest.

In the early Viet Nam era, there was an arranger/composer at the University of Michigan named Jerry Bilik.  His arranging "style", concept of sound, scoring, transitions between tunes - were a trademark of how the Michigan band sounded.  In the early 60s about the time of the 100th anniversary of Gettysburg, he wrote a piece called American Civil War Fantasy (hear it below).  It was an instant national "hit" in the band world and for the time and, because the Viet Nam conflict hadn't boiled over on the stove, was considered both a Memorial/Decoration Day staple in park concerts but something of a patriotic support tune for the war itself - all wars - we being just a generation out of WWII.

I went to one Uof M game while in high school - mainly to hear the band (certainly the best in the United States at the time) and they played this at halftime - no marching around - just played this piece as a statement of solidarity.  There were no protesting students - can you imagine - University of Michigan 1960s? - and the flags flying, clear blue Midwest sky - well the effect was amazing, electric, and more memorable for me than any cemetery memorial - and as a trumpet player for years - a setting of endless "taps".

A lot has changed in the 50 years or so since this.  I have endless admiration for those in the service but I consider it the waste of the ages to have to bury people as they are the very ones we need within the society - to function and make us all better as a nation.  There is no inclusion or contribution they can have or make when they are dead and that should make us all sad.

I've adopted a bit of philosophy that I can live with on Decoration/Memorial Day.  When we attend a parade or go to a cemetery or hear another 21 gun salute, it should be for us - the ones that have to carry on without those who died in war because, perhaps, we used their talents for killing and dying rather than their fortitude and courage within our ranks to help solve what appear to be very pressing issues.

Decorating graves in remembrance of loss is of course appropriate.  I would like us, however, to take a second and view it - with regret and sadness - as a monument to the senselessness of wars in general.  It is said, in essence, that what we fight for defines a nation.  

It can also be said that the mere act of fighting defines us as well.