Friday, May 20, 2011
Memorial Days Remembered
It was Memorial Day 1947. Solemn observance of the day was taking place in every village and town around the region I lived in. As part of my job writing and editing for a weekly newspaper I was located several hundred feet over the largest cemetery in our area. In a sputtering World War Two surplus T-13 Vultee "Vomiter" aircraft using Blue Sunoco Regular gasoline at an octane far below 100 octane aviation fuel.
My editor was looking for a special way to develop a story recognizing the sacrifice of military and naval persons who died in World War Two. Thus it was arranged that I would be placed in the backseat of a well-worn aircraft, with the cockpit canopy open, so I could drop flowers over the cemetery. during the ceremony below. I was equipped with a grocery store paper bag filled with lilac blossoms. Over the cemetery I was to empty the sack of flowers into the slip stream of the aircraft.
I did what I was told. I haven't the vaguest idea whether anyone below saw any flowers. After all, I had no bombsight or other way the estimate the trajectory (or trajectories) of probably fifty or more small clumps of flowers. I just tossed them over the side never realizing that any one of them could have been caught in a tail control surface perhaps affecting flight of the aircraft. The crux of the story was that it was the first and only time that town was bombed. Fortunately no damage was done.
I was severely reprimanded by my father for flying in a decrepit airplace, out of a primitive airstrip and, in the process, scaring my mother half out of her wits when we buzzed my house. To say the least, it was an adventure.
Sixty years later, In Oscoda, Michigan, we recognized Memorial Day in a much more significant way. A few miles north of Oscoda you'll find a simple, small white church in the midst of a forest. It's been there a long time and is a Chippewa Indian Mission church. Years ago it claimed a good-size congregation; today attendance is much smaller because the Native American population in the area has dwindled. However, there is still a core of people with Indian ancestry who still attend. I really appreciated the times we went out there for Sunday services; it was one of the most accepting congregations I have ever known.
So, on Memorial Day recognition of veterans became a very special experience for me.
The picture shows one the the ceremonies at the Indian Mission cemetery. It's the "smudge" ceremony and every one in attendance becomes involved. The photo above shows this special observance. You can see many of the grave markers behind the celebrant, as well as a tall marker listing Indian veterans who had died in conflicts over the years serving their country. You can't see it in the picture but the cemetery has a multitude of small crosses with the simple word "unknown" painted on them.
Without a doubt, this was one of the most meaningful Memorial Day recognitions I've ever attended. If the crosses with "unknown" on them could only have told their stories. I hope each person who reads this takes time to reflect on those who have passed before us. They are the history of our lives.