This Land Is Your Land
Happy Memorial Day, Blog. My friend Karen was reminded of the true meaning of Memorial Day on a recent trip to Washington DC . . .
On a recent trip down the east coast, my husband decided we would take the train. Visions of cattle cars came to mind, but I went along. After all, it was our anniversary.
The train turned out to be a pleasant surprise, despite it’s being one hour late to our destination, it was easy and smooth and lovely. The biggest surprise, though, was what was out the window. Like a giant movie screen the scenery out the window of a train washes over you like a dream. Sure there were burned out buildings and billiard halls, errant shopping carts, the inevitable mall, but there were also wide open waters and winding rivers, baseball diamonds and football fields, faded red wooden barns and working farms, and neatly tended backyard after backyard after backyard splicing together frames of green green grass.
Like the long car trips that many of us remember from our childhood days, gray black stretches of highway unfolded into places unknown, and what can only be called Americana went racing by, mile after mile, and it was nothing short of glorious. One minute the Philadelphia city scape was unfolding in the window that had become my movie screen, and then just like that the scene would change and my view would open up again to wide open pastures. Amber waves of grain and all that, it’s really true, even out here on the east coast. There, a river, there, a pasture, there, a town. America.
Our destination was Washington DC, and while we were there we visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall,” expressly to get a wall rubbing for a friend. His father, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lee Alexander, was a battalion commander in the 1st Calvary, in a command helicopter that was flying between outposts when they went down on October 31, 1969.
If you’ve never been there, the scene overwhelms. You can’t help but be moved by the grave sight which opens up before you like a giant gaping hole in the ground – an optical illusion - as you crest the hill before it. The Wall was designed by a young woman, a Yale undergraduate, Maya Lin, to be its own park within a park. It is powerful, and brings a tear no matter your politics.
We found the name we were looking for, but Oh No! It was out of reach, at the very top of the wall! We stood there for a moment, perplexed. Gently, an attendant approached us. “Are you trying to get a name?” he asked. “Yes, but it’s way up there!” we pointed. “I’ll get the ladder,” he said, just as gently as before.
He did. We told him in great detail how we wanted it done and he just smiled – he had done this before. People gathered to watch the spectacle of this attendant balanced on a ladder with a piece of paper and a stick of graphite in hand, while we directed him from below. They gathered in great number, and fell silent. All we heard was the swish swish of the pencil brushing against the stone. It was a moment, and I was surprised to find that where I had been tearing up before now I was smiling. Smiling? Smiling. Because what I was feeling all of a sudden was pride. Just the way I had been feeling proud about our country as I watched it roll by on the train, now I was proud of the people in it, living and dead. It was an honor, and a privilege, to walk away with LTC Robert Lee Alexander’s name etched in graphite and paper in my hand, with the quiet reverence of all those around me who bore witness to this small remembrance of one man who gave his life for me, and you.
Happy Memorial Day, HooplaHa readers. Musician Woody Guthrie wrote about ribbons of highway and endless skyways in “This Land is Your Land” back in 1940, and it’s all still there, if you look for it. This land is my land, this land is your land. Get out and enjoy it, and remember those who gave up their life for it. This land was made for you and me.