Every year on Memorial Day, my father put on his American Legion cap and went to Memorial Day services. I remember them as always being held in cemeteries. Marianne's father, who also served in WWII, never missed a one either.
So when Marianne and I moved to Roxborough, we we careful to always show up on Memorial Day.
Back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, there wasn't much of a turnout at Gorgas Park. The Vietnam War was still fresh in people's memories. Some skipped the ceremonies because they thought we shouldn't have been in the war. Others because they thought that we should have won it.
Both missed the point. The dead are beyond politics. Those who served with them show up to remember the fallen and to honor their sacrifice. You don't have to support the particular war they served in to feel the solemnity of their loss.
National moods shift. In 2002, there was a huge turnout and some of those who were showing up for the first time were in a jingoistic mood. I remember one woman tried to start a chant of "U.S.A! U.S.A.!" The vet who was speaking gently cut her off. "How sweet those words are," he said, and went back to his eulogy. Because it wasn't a day for flag-waving but a day for remembrance.
There are lot more memorial services within walking distance today than there were back then. The big one is still in Gorgas Park. But we go to a smaller one in Leverington Cemetery. There is a memorial there to the Virginians who were massacred by British soldiers a few blocks down Ridge Avenue, a marble monument erected by the family of a nurse who died while tending to the wounded in the Civil War, stones with the names of regiments illegible from a century and a half of rain... It is a reminder of what a terrible thing history can be.
It is such a little thing to show up for a brief ceremony one day out of the year. But when it's all you can, you pretty much have no choice.