I was in the high school marching band back in Iowa and every Memorial Day we would march a few miles to a cemetery that lay among cornfields, lonesome willows and elms.


The town and the farmers would come out and listen to us play Sousa marches that always seemed too rousing for the occasion. The mayor would speak and say nothing and his oratory was not outdone by the priest and the minister. But as clueless as they seemed, they must have known no one came for them. Or for words.

The American Legion contingent would raise a flag and lay a wreath on a veteran’s grave. Then taps. I played trombone so my role here was limited, but my brother Jerry played trumpet and he would drift off to a far corner of the cemetery and echo the notes as another boy played from a makeshift stage.

All across the nation we stood. From a small country cemetery outside Bayard, Iowa to the Tomb of the Unknowns. What could be more evocative than those first three notes of Taps? They make it impossible to look away from personal and national sorrow.

Then….silence. Just the wind in the trees and across the corn fields. Fathers, mothers, grandparents who knew war and remembered, ached and feared that it would return. We did not see it. We were boys and girls as innocent as native prairie. As unaware of danger as the cows who briefly stared and returned their attention to green meadows.

We barely noticed the darkening clouds nor did we pay heed to the swallows signalling rain.

Within a year, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were dead and the skies opened.

Years later I wrote a song. Words. Insufficient and yet….that is all I have.

Garrison Keillor read the lyrics on The Writer’s Almanac a few years ago.  You can listen to the song here.

I welcome any comments or memories you may have of Memorial Days of your youth. Also, if you enjoy these posts, please consider subscribing. Just more words, though.




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