Memorial Day: I ain’t marching anymore

My father and his brother both served their country in the Army during World War II.  My uncle, who was based in Australia, saw combat action in the South Pacific.  Dad was training to be a tail gunner in the Army Air Force, but missed combat as the war ended prior to his deployment.

While in college during the Vietnam war, I took part in anti-war demonstrations, marches and rallies.  I still have a letter from U.S. Representative Les Aspin in response to concerns about the war I’d written in a missive to him.  He understood and promised to work toward ending the war.  The continuing anti-war movement resonates with me today.

In 1971, over a Memorial Day weekend when I was home for the summer from college, my uncle and his family came to visit.  Being an occasional coffeehouse folksinger, trying to learn a handful of new tunes whenever the opportunity arose, I’d brought home with me some sheet music.  I’d set the pages to one song, an anti-war anthem titled I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs, on my mother’s spinet piano.  My uncle spotted it there, picked it up and stared at it.  I braced myself for the blowback.

A few long seconds passed, when to my great surprise he turned to me and said, “This is really good.  How does it go?”  I sang I few bars a cappella for him.  He picked up the tune straight away and we both continued to sing the next couple of verses together.  Dad even joined in.  Soon we were discussing the Vietnam war and concluded that future wars should be avoided at all cost.

Let’s not forget why we enjoy this long holiday weekend.  Memorial Day is observed to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.  The holiday wasn’t established for businesses to promote “mattress sale extravaganzas” or for car dealerships to offer “holiday blowouts.”  Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated sometime after the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971, the same day my dad, my uncle and I sang I Ain’t Marching Anymore together.

The message of the song is clear.  Let’s cease adding to the roll call of those who fall in battle, to be honored for a few hours one day a year.  It’s time to give peace a chance… every day.

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