A Memorial Day Tradition

He missed a couple notes playing Taps, but for the first time I can remember, it didn’t bug me at all. 

I played the trumpet through college. While I’ve never been asked to play this tribute in any setting that mattered, I know that playing Taps is pure pressure.

I knew this young man was in for a challenge when I saw him walking toward me down the country road carrying only a trumpet, no case, wearing kakis and a short-sleeved FFA shirt.  It was sunny and he had sunglasses on his head, but it was only 54-degrees at 8:30 in the morning off the shore of Lake Michigan.  It was not warm, and he’d get no chance to warm up.  There was no place to go get ready.  When it was time, it was time.  Everyone would be listening.

And, he did well. 

The trumpeter looked just old enough to drive himself to Norwood Township on this morning.  He was about the age George Light, Jr. was when George left Norwood decades ago to join the Army to serve in World War II.  George died this last year and was one of many veterans honored Monday at Norwood’s Memorial Day ceremony in a picturesque, flag-lined cemetery.

It was a wonderful ceremony that Brenda, my boys and I attended at a neighbor’s invitation.  I am thankful for that invitation.

It was all you might think, or hope, would come with a Memorial Day gathering.

We’ve covered the trumpeter.  There were men in Legion hats and uniforms.  Wives, in some cases, still at their sides.  There was a platoon of seven men, representing many generations and each branch of service marching in time and in uniform.  Flags everywhere.  No politicians.  A 21-gun salute.  Graves adorned.  And Taps.

Doughnuts.  Did I mention doughnuts?  Oh right, I didn’t, but my boys did.  83 times.  “You said there would be doughnuts!”

George Light’s widow read a prayer she and her husband said each night of their lives together and then she walked stoically past more than a hundred friends, neighbors and complete strangers to place a wreath at George’s grave.

She then presented the American flag she received upon George’s burial to the township to be raised to the top of a new flagpole being installed at the cemetery this coming year.

Members of the Legion even sang a song, and it was good.

It was all the things a Memorial Day remembrance should be.  All the things George Light and his family deserved.

After post-ceremony doughnuts at the township’s old one-room schoolhouse, we made the short drive back home and Brenda asked, “Who does this when these people are gone?”

As Myra Fleener exclaimed in the movie Hoosiers, “It’s a good question!”

The hair on the heads of the vast majority of people attending and organizing Monday’s ceremony was gray, thinning, or gone altogether.  When these folks join the soldiers honored on this Memorial Day, who will keep putting on what was put on in this tiny, rural cemetery in Northern Michigan?

I don’t have a crystal ball or any inspired insights, but I also don’t suspect the answer to this question is much different today than it was in the 1940s when the neighbors of Norwood gathered for the first time on Memorial Day.

We do.  That’s who does it.  We do.

Most assuredly, wars will continue.  Men and women will continue to serve and die for our country.  We won’t know most of them, but we certainly will know some of them. 

And, we will honor them.

We will gather on cool, spring mornings in late May. 

We will listen as life stories are told.

We will put our hands on our hearts to say the Pledge and sing the Anthem. 

We will bribe young children with doughnuts because we hope witnessing all this will leave a lasting impression.

We will marvel at just how blue the sky can be and how warm the sun can make us feel.

We will bow our heads in prayer.

We will get lumps in our throat.

We will start new family traditions, as my family did yesterday.

And, we will play Taps and likely miss a note.  But it won’t bug us at all.

-- Matt