The parade stopped at the cemetery
In the small New England town that I grew up in, the cemetery was the fulcrum point of memory. Our ceremonies were centered there. The parade route ran up the main street, past the hardware store and the lawyer’s office, around the town square and to the memorial at the graveyard.
Pennants would snap at each grave that held a veteran. On Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, the ground was full of color. Service to your country was a long and unquestioned tradition for these farmers and tradesmen.
This was the height of the Vietnam War. As we would stand at the end of the route, the veterans would assemble by the big stone that listed all the dead. They would shoot their guns in salute. It was loud and sudden.
Then I was a boy frightened by death, enthralled by heroism, distrustful of politics. I missed the sadness and pain that those men harbored. I didn’t understand that more than awe, they deserved respect, kindness and, above all, gratitude.