City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

Memorial Day

June 1, 2010 10:35 AM

As I do every year, I attended the Memorial Day service on the State Street steps of the Capitol Building. It's the same solemn event every year. There's the reading of General Logan's Order Number 11 of 1868, which created what has become Memorial Day, then in recognition of the 600,000 Americans who lost their lives in the Civil War. There's the annual recitation of the Gettysburg Address. Then the governor speaks. (I kid at home that the Gettysburg Address is a pretty tough act to follow.) When the speeches are done, roses are laid for those who died in each of America's wars. The event concludes with a rifle salute and the playing of taps.

Occasionally, I'm asked to speak, but I prefer not to. I hear the sound of my own voice enough. I'd rather sit in silent reflection as I look down State Street to Bascom Hill. This year, as most years, I think about my father. I saw him yesterday when Dianne and I went home to help my parents plant flowers. My dad was a paratrooper, preparing for the invasion of Japan when World War II ended. He later served as part of the occupation forces immediately after the war.

I think about how close he came to combat and how likely it would have been for him to not come back from what, by all accounts, would have been a very bloody struggle. I think about how lucky my generation has been, too young for Vietnam and now too old for Afghanistan and Iraq, to have lived most of our lives in peace. And I think about what my father told me about his experience training for the war. How what really motivates people in those circumstances is less about grand ideals and more about feeling a loyalty to each other and the desire to get back home to a normal life.

So, it's good to stop for a moment as I do every Memorial Day and formally remember those who died in the service of our country. But it's not at all wrong to also enjoy the simple pleasures of a backyard barbeque or a ball game. In fact, enjoying the simple freedoms they helped preserve might be one of the very best ways to honor those who would be with us doing just that if they could.


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