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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Of Matters Military and Celebration--Anzac Day and Beyond by Kait Carson

Today is Anzac Day. It’s a sacred day in Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps more sacred this year as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. Like most military remembrances, it is born in blood. The aim of the Gallipoli campaign was to take Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, for the Allies. It never happened. Instead, the forces fought to a stalemate that ended in December of 1915. By the time the Anzacs (and other Allied forces) were evacuated, losses on both sides were heavy, and the Anzacs had built a worldwide reputation for pluck, determination, and courage. The first celebration, if one can call it that, was held in 1916, a year after the landing. It wasn’t until 1920 that Anzac Day became a national day of commemoration of the more than 60,000 Anzac troops who died in the First World War

The celebration begins at dawn in memory of the time the troops made their landing at what is now called Anzac Cove. Events progress throughout the day. Although these days Anzac Day has been expanded to commemorate Australians who lost their lives in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping efforts, the main thrust is keeping alive the memory of WWI, and Anzac Day traditions have remained largely unchanged since the early 1930s.

As a Yank, I admire the purity of the day and the celebration. Here in the US we merged and moved so many of our holidays that few remember Memorial Day was originally May 30th, and there was a time when we celebrated two Presidents in February. Yet even here, we still celebrate Veteran’s Day on November 11th. That’s another big day in Australia where it is known as Remembrance Day. Originally established to celebrate the end of WWI, it has since become a day to honor and remember all the men and women who have served their country.

Serving one’s country has fallen from favor these days. We seem to have forgotten that freedom is not free. It is bought and paid for by the young men and women who chose to serve their country. I am honored to be involved with a group of Future Marines who come to our home for physical training every Tuesday and Thursday. Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to hear Staff Sergeant Sanchez address his men. The occasion was the presentation of the Marine Corps Flag to Woody Woods. Woody at 103 served his country in WWII not in combat, but by building the airplanes that were so essential to the war effort.

When Staff Sergeant Sanchez introduced the group of Future Marines to Woody he said, “This man served his country and paved the way for your freedom. Now, Future Marines, it is up to you to pass that tradition on to the next generation. You are paving the way for your children and their children.” That just about says it all.

We are a military family. My husband served as a Marine and was commissioned a captain in the Air Force. We are passionate in the support of our military. To us days like Anzac Day resonate, as do Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. We don’t celebrate Anzac day, although we might this year. We do celebrate Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day like all Americans. Except our celebration days start with phone calls to thank friends and relatives who have served. What about you? Do you celebrate the memorial holidays?


Warren Bull said...

My father was a combat infantryman in WWII. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and crossed the bridge across the Rhine River at Remagen. He was wounded and sent back to his unit. He fought until he was wounded severely enough to be sent to the hospital until he recovered and then home. We celebrate the holidays.

Kait said...

Was he with Patton's army? How wonderful that he survived being wounded twice! What wonderful stories you must have grown up with.

Jim Jackson said...

My father was a World War II veteran, wounded in Holland, and spent most of the rest of the war in hospitals. My four-greats grandfather Jackson served in the War of 1812 as the surgeon at Hackett’s Harbor, NY; his father was a Revolutionary War Colonel who penned the articles of capitulation at Saratoga. He was chief of staff to Gen. Gates. I could be a Son of the American Revolution about twelve-times over (my father knew the exact number, but I have forgotten).

That said, I do not celebrate Memorial Day. The day was started as an act of politics by the Grand Army of the Republic (in today’s parlance a lobbying group for union army veterans’ benefits). The day has lost its meaning. Here are a few lines from a sermon I delivered in 2007:

Reading and rereading the Order [No. 1 of the Grand Army of the Republic] I found a number of points striking. First, the concept [of Memorial Day] was not parsimonious, but rather grand in style. It called for “strewing flowers” on the graves of their fallen comrades. These would be fresh cut from the bounty of gardens – “the choicest flowers of spring-time.”

The language was poetic: “cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes.”

It included the then immediate political goal of the organization to “renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphans.”

In large part I think the holiday has been perverted because Americans as a whole have no skin in the wars our country participates in. A small percentage of our citizens are in the armed forces; our politicians reduce taxes rather than have us pay for our wars; our politicians do not provide adequate medical coverage for those injured in war; the politicians use Memorial Day to puff their collective chests about what patriots they are.

I cannot stand the duplicity.

Instead of the faux-celebration of Memorial Day, throughout the year when I see individual soldiers – even though I do not agree with most of the wars they have been required to fight – I thank them for their service.

~ Jim
Whose nerves are a bit raw on the subject

Kait said...

Jim, what a wonderful comment. Thank you so much for the posting. What you do is so much more meaningful than a day of hot dogs and hamburgers. It is so important to celebrate Veteran's Day everyday. My husband often wears his Marine Corps "cover" (hat to the rest of us) and is frequently thanked for his service. We make it a point to thank others - no surprise there. And your comment, that you thank individuals even though you do not agree with the wars is most meaningful. The men and women who fight for our country do not get to pick and chose their wars. They are, however, doing something most of us don't and wouldn't do. The are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. Kudos. And keep being raw on the subject. You make great points.

PS - Yes, Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day) was begun by the North after the War of Northern Agression (as I was always taught to call it).

Jim Jackson said...

In fairness to the South, they held the first decoration days immediately after the war, whatever one chooses to call it. :)

If memory serves it was May 1st -- the flowers bloom earlier below the Mason-Dixon line.

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

Thank you for a beautiful remembrance, Kait. My husband is a retired Coast Guard officer, and my son in law is in the Army. I agree that the military has become invisible to our country beyond the shallow photo ops. Our foreign policy would improve greatly if more politicians had first hand experience of the dangers and sacrifices they send others to make.

Kait said...

@Jim, I do believe you are right about May 1st. Yes, the flowers do bloom earlier here!

Kait said...

@Shari, please thank them for their service from Gary and I. And a thank you to you too. It is not easy to be a military wife and sometimes I think their sacrifices are overlooked. I agree that service should be a prerequisite to government service. These days former service members in the Federal House and Senate are few and far between based on articles I have read.

KM Rockwood said...

Regardless of its origins, I've always seen Memorial Day (I do remember when it was called Decoration Day)as a vivid reminder of what so many have sacrificed for their country, right or wrong.

When my kids were in school, they always took part in the annual parade that ended at the Gettysburg cemetery to place flowers (yes, usually ones cut from the participant's gardens, or wild flowers) on the graves.

KM Rockwood said...

Regardless of its origins, I've always seen Memorial Day (I do remember when it was called Decoration Day)as a vivid reminder of what so many have sacrificed for their country, right or wrong.

When my kids were in school, they always took part in the annual parade that ended at the Gettysburg cemetery to place flowers (yes, usually ones cut from the participant's gardens, or wild flowers) on the graves.

Kait said...

What a wonderful memory. I can only imagine how impressive it is to be in Gettysburg for the holiday. It is a great tradition. I have been to the battlefield. It is a sacred place.

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you for explaining Anzac Day, Kait. And a huge thank you to your husband for keeping us safe. And for your service too! I think military spouses are very strong to hold families together while the other is serving their country.

I have some family members and friends who are in the military. My godson is a Navy corpsman.

Kait said...

@Kara, big thanks to your godson and thank you for posting. Military wives are a special breed.

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you for telling me about Anzac Day. I've never heard of it before. I had two uncles that fought in WWII - one parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, and the other fought in Northern Africa and Italy where his best friend was shot and killed next to him.

Recently, a delightful old man in his 90s that I deliver Mobile Meals to, told me how he tried three times to join the Navy when he was in his teens and always rejected because he'd lost his front teeth playing football. In between the times he tried to join, he went to New York City, got hired on a transport ship taking supplies to England for the war. On his third try when he was again rejected, he headed for the line the recruiter sent him towards, and once out of the recruiter's sight, he slipped into the line of those who had been accepted and joined the Navy and went to sea.

Patg said...

My father fought in WW2 under Patton, but my husband's family has served in every American War since the Revolution. I don't 'celebrate' these holidays but I do take note of them, as WW1 and 2 impacted my life quite a bit. I have two fabulous flags given to me by the VFW, and no flag pole.
Well I guess I celebrate in my heart.

Kait said...

Pat, that is fantastic. Wow what cool thing for your husband to have a relation to the Revolution. How wonderful that you have the flags. We had my Uncle's commemorative flag - 48 stars. I flew it every day after 9/11 until it tattered.

Kait said...

Gloria, what a wonderful story. I am always in awe of the WWII vets. A woman I considered a second mother to me was from Australia. She introduced me to Anzac Day.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you for this wonderful article. My husband I have been following the ANZAC observances. My husband, a former Royal Marine, noted that Royal Navy and Royal Marines also participated in the battles.

Memorial Day is a special day for my family. I, too, come from a military family. My father was in the Bataan Death March and was a Japanese prisoner of war for 3.5 years. My mother's five brothers fought in WWII and survived. Following in their footsteps, I served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. My husband in the Royal Marine from Britain. And now our daughter is serving in the U.S. Army. She and her husband between them have done four tours in the Middle-East. Days designated to honor our veterans and fallen comrades mean a lot to us.

Unknown said...

These days are known to be special for most of us, since it commemorates the brave people who fought for our country. But for some, it is more than just that. For some people it is a day where they also celebrate the great deeds of loved ones and family members. We are truly grateful for them, and they truly deserve such a celebration.

Brad Post @ Jan Dils

Kait said...

Well said, Brad!