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Essays by Karen Anderson: Memorial Day

Illustration by Kacie Brown

It’s Memorial Day and I’m visiting my parents’ graves at Oakwood Cemetery, a lovely scene of well-kept lawns and ancient trees. Many families are here, and single people, older people—lifting flowers out of cars, enacting private rituals of remembrance.

I sit on the grass and talk quietly with the two people whom I dearly miss despite our various conflicts. My father’s simple bronze plaque identifies him as a Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, World War II. And next to the stone is an American flag, as there is on every veteran’s grave today.

Hundreds and hundreds of flags in every direction across the vast cemetery, testimony to the immense cost of wars and the price paid by the dead and the living. I’m always moved to see these flags. Who puts them out every year?

So I asked the sexton at the cemetery office. “Seventeen hundred flags,” he said. “It’s done by volunteers from veterans groups, church groups, state and local police.” Without fanfare or recognition, they perform this service, and if asked, would probably say, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” So would the veterans.

These silent flags speak to me, louder than any speeches, about what a privilege it is to sit here on the grass—a far cry from the many battlefields where veterans saw duty.

A far cry.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.