Once a month I have to attend a meeting in my company's Framingham office. This means at least twice as long a commute, in both time and distance, and I've been trying an alternate route recently to see if I can find a better balance between the speed of the highway and the directness of local roads. On my new route, I spend much of the trip on MA Rte 126.
In the way of New England state routes, the numbered trail is not a dedicated road. It follows fragments of various streets only to turn abruptly onto others; attention to signage is vital. I crossed into Holliston headed northbound, and it wasn't until that street ended and Rte. 126 took a right turn onto Washington that I noticed something different. On several telephone poles, there were signs and little flags. The signs were on plain white posterboard, firmly tented and affixed; each bore text in thick, black, plain block print. After seeing several I realized they each listed a military rank and a name, with a US flag above.
Just as I registered that, though — because I was driving, I couldn't inspect them closely — and decided they might be welcome-home signs for local military personnel, I noticed the next one had a Norwegian flag and "Norway" below the name. So did the next. And then US, and then Poland. Britain. US, US, Norway, US, US, US, Poland, Poland, Canada.
Not every pole had a sign, but I gradually realized that they were all supposed to. Yesterday's windstorm had torn several signs loose or free, and remnants showed on the poles that didn't bear signs. Most poles did still bear the signs.
On both sides of the street.
The road curved back north and passed through Holliston Center, then out again, every pole adorned (still or at one time). Every one. The road curved back east again. Each sign had a name, usually but not always male, the US ones with states, most with an age. Most in the 20s or 30s; once I was looking, I saw three or four in their 40s. A 19, Jesus. 126 turned left off that road, heading north once more, and I could see the signs continuing off to the east; they continued north up 126 as well, all the way to the town line.
Just the section I saw was about five miles.
Veterans Day and Memorial Day (the US versions) were never a big deal for me. My father spent a few years in the military but that almost never came up; we lived near the SeaBee base and not far at all from Keesler, but this was the late 70s and the 80s. The Commies wanted to destroy our way of life (I was a little skeptical), and we would all die in nuclear fire at any moment (I lay awake some nights wondering if each plane overhead was a bomb), but individual people fighting battles weren't really in my mental space. That was a Vietnam thing, from the days I was in diapers or earlier; that wasn't something I had to think about. World War II was ancient history; Korea was a TV show.
I was really quite sheltered and naive. I still am, I know.
The two dates on the calendar meant a day off from school or work, maybe fireworks, maybe shopping. The rare military-holiday parade I heard of was a thing for a few dusty old men in their dusty old uniforms. "Support the troops" or displaying the flag got all tangled up in endorsing particular wars and military policies, so none of that was ever drilled into me.
I can cry on demand. I don't bother; I have no need to, and I don't want the headache. I don't cry all that much in general. (Some people consider themselves criers; I'm not the opposite, exactly, and I've sobbed with reason, but I'm not generally a crier.) The occasional moment will strike me, but it usually passes.
I had to fight that down several times while I was driving this morning. And several times writing this up.
It's different now, in some ways.
I don't go to memorials or parades; they don't really have a significance for me the way they do others, and it would be artificial. I don't put up memorials or flags, because I don't have a message to convey with those. [One of the surest ways to piss me off is to erect a memorial or raise a flag ... and then forget about it, or disregard all propriety of the marker, or leave it there after it has become damaged. Flying a tattered flag from a car, leaving a shredded flag flapping from a pole, wearing a flag motif as clothing (often adorning one's tits or ass), leaving wind-and-rain-torn memorials sodden and strewn ... those are uniformly offensive. Lack of display, and even many protest displays, still at least maintain respect. If I ever were to display either, I would damn well tend to them.]
But it's possible to support the troops now and still refuse to support the wars that kill them. [Pretending this country isn't still fighting multiple unjustified wars, that they were swift successful engagements that haven't continued to kill thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians, is just as offensive as any other desecration of a national symbol. Every reporter trying to keep that story in the public eye — Rachel Maddow and Richard Engel come immediately to mind, but there are many more who deserve acknowledgement — is performing an invaluable public service.] It's possible to grieve those killed in service as tragedies even amid a more questionable context.
I don't think that military service is the most noble or gratitude-worthy calling that a person could serve; many, many fields are filled with heroes large and small. But I do care; I do respect and thank those who serve or have served, and I regret the loss of every life in that service.
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