At the same time Memorial Day has a somber overtone for those of us veterans who lost brothers in arms in combat. Their faces and the memories never fade, nor should they. Remembrance of their personal sacrifice, their young lives lost, will always be with me. I will never allow myself to forget because it’s all I can offer them.
On Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. the American Legion hosts the annual Memorial Day event. The high school band plays some patriotic numbers. The ROTC cadets parade the colors. The Cub Scouts place flags on the graves of veterans in the small cemetery, which dates back to the Revolutionary War. An address is given by one of the few remaining vets of The Greatest Generation. Although I tendered my resignation from the American Legion years ago because of the national headquarters equating the Christian cross with patriotism (as I discussed in The Atheist Camel Chronicles), I am always asked by the handful of our remaining Legionnaires to help raise the flag and lower it to half mast in the town square as the anthem is played. I’m happy to do it. That's me in the tan shirt.
When taps is finally played, with the dual muffled trumpet echoing some where off in the distance I snap to salute the deceased with the rest of the vets. I have to fight back a tear. It brings it all home...those young faces, some of whom never had their first shave, whose names are on that wall in
After the ceremonies are completed the entire town is invited to partake in refreshments in our 18th century town hall. It’s a Norman Rockwell Memorial Day observance that is repeated throughout small
I feel as though I did my duty to those memories. I’m both grieved and yet renewed. Perhaps it’s cathartic. Nothing more need be said except for one detail which, even as I type this, causes me angst.
It’s traditional that the designated Legion “chaplain,” one of the guys who volunteers for the role, reads the basic-by-the-handbook-non-denominational-prayer; a simple and inoffensive blend of canned mumbo jumbo and respect for our fallen comrades. This year however a genuine Christian pastor was invited to give the benediction. In the three or four minutes she stood before that microphone she invoked the name Jesus three times. I was stunned. “Jesus our Savior,” “Jesus who sacrificed as our soldiers had sacrificed.” “Jesus whose presence is with us, as the memory of...” Shit!
In shock I glanced around at the assemblage. I could detect no particular discomfort among my fellow town’s folk. And why would I? My educated assessment is there isn’t a Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Wiccan or openly atheist much less anti-theist among them. These are folks who were raised to believe in a god, a Christian one, albeit Christian-Lite is the preferred flavor here. If they still retain their childhood indoctrination and believe in a god, or if they don’t even give it a second thought, they do so quietly and don’t wear it on their sleeve. New Englanders are nothing if not the pragmatic; mind yer own business; keep your beliefs to yourself types. This isn’t the South.
Given this, I could only describe the preacher invoking Jesus at an otherwise secular public gathering as a breach of
If this had been a local governmental sanctioned event I’d write a scathing letter to the selectmen and the newspaper. But it wasn’t. If I was a dues paying member of the American Legion I could voice my objection and dismay to the post commander. But I’m not. I could demonstrate my ire by not attending next year’s event, and explaining why I won’t be there to raise the flag. But then, I’d be denying myself a secular ritual that holds deep meaning, and I won’t let them take it from me.
For the first time I am at a loss as to how to handle this. I have 363 days to contemplate what I’ll do if this religious provocation threatens to sully my next Memorial Day. I welcome suggestions.