Memorial Day has always been rather personal for me, and looking back at the day over the years reminds me of what it has meant to my family. Having had family members in the military since the Spanish-American War (1898), I was always around people who served our country in times of war. Their outlook was (and still is for those who survive) decidedly different than those who never wore a uniform or endured life under fire.
My father is a World War Two veteran, and when I was growing up it was not unusual for us to attend a variety of functions at the local Veterans of Foreign War Post (ours was located in Ridgewood, New York). At that time the Post was buzzing with life. There were members from World War I (like my grandfather), World War II, Korea (like my uncle), and even some "young" guys from Vietnam (like my cousin).
The women (my mother and aunts among them) populated the Ladies Auxiliary which not only advanced the mission of the Post, but sold Buddy Poppies to raise funds and also did good works in the community. They also handled the Voice of Democracy Contest that allowed young people to write about freedom in their country every year and receive awards for it.
Every Memorial Day was a big event in my family. My father somehow or other always got elected to walk the route as Uncle Sam. Someone once asked why he would want to hike in hot weather in that get-up, and Dad said that it was better than trudging across a war zone loaded down with equipment. That had to be an answer the "real" Uncle Sam would understand and appreciate.
The parade route was always a sea of American flags being waved up against the blue sky. When I was little I recall standing on the sidelines with my Mom, waiting to see my father marching in his costume. When I got older I stood on the sidelines with my grandfather, and my mother joined my Dad and marched as Lady Liberty. Every year their picture would appear in the local newspaper marching together side-by-side.
After the parade and laying of the ceremonial wreaths at the war monuments, the marchers and their families returned to the Post for a big bash. Pitchers of beer and soda lined the tables, hamburgers and hot dogs smothered in everything were consumed, and music blared all afternoon long. There were so many kids running around, my cousins and I always got a chance to have fun. The pool tables in the basement were a nice attraction too (when we got a little older).