Like millions of Americans around the country today, Mother Goose stopped to remember.
In our village, we have a park with a newly restored statue, Peace Triumphant. We gathered there in a chilly mist this morning in Scoville Park to honor and remember those who have fallen in supreme sacrifice to the defense of freedom here and around the world. As I listened to the speeches of the local dignitaries, I was filled with pride to be the mother of two U.S. Navy sailors. But I could also hear in my head the words of General Douglas MacArthur:
The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
Because this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we had the Civil War re-enactors dressed in Union soldier outfits describing for us the first Decoration Days immediately following the Civil War. Women brought fresh spring flowers to decorate the graves of the Confederate soldiers and the Union soldiers, buried side by side in places all across the nation. In America’s bloodiest and most heart-breaking war, nearly 700,000 men lost their lives.
The first time that Decoration Day was mentioned in the New York Times, it was in reference to the sweet observation in Charleston, South Carolina in May of 1865 when newly free African Americans honored the brave troops who had died to set them free from slavery. In a sense, these freed slaves had invented an official Memorial Day in our country.
This morning in Oak Park, we had patriotic traditions to stir the local hearts. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, sang the Star-Spangled Banner and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The bugler played taps and the Oak Park police fired off three rounds to salute the fallen.
Our newly elected village president, Anan Abu-Taleb, spoke graciously of the importance of freedom, and how his father lived out his full 95 years never knowing a day of freedom. Wreathes were laid at the foot of the monument honoring our war heroes as well as River Forest native, Anne Smedinghoff — a U.S. diplomat killed last month in Afghanistan as she was delivering books to a school.
Veterans in the audience were applauded for their service. This combined with the assembly of citizens singing “America the Beautiful” which brought tears to the eyes of Mother Goose. Today these hundred year old words just meant so much…
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
God shed your grace on America today and crown us with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.