These days Memorial Day is more a holiday of reunion than a time to remember.
Alumni of Midwest high schools by the thousands go home for a weekend of reunions, an honorable custom that has yet to take hold in the South.
Another name for Memorial Day is “Decoration Day.” In many places graves are decorated, not just those of veterans.
The history of this holiday is ambiguous but its origins certainly reach back to the late 1800s.
Thousands of war dead from conflicts that punctuated our national history lie in national cemeteries. American soil exists where few Americans go.
These fields across the seas are near battlefields that were too far away to ship the thousands of bodies back home. Very few bodies were returned home.
There are American cemeteries and memorials throughout the world. The “populations” of a few American cemeteries are larger than some cities: Lorraine France, 10,489; Manila, Philippines, 17,206; Meuse-Argonne, France, 14,246; Normandy, France, 9,386. The Manila cemetery contains a memorial to 36,282 Americans “missing.”
Of the 136,516 Americans killed during World War I, there were 4,452 missing in action.
There were 405,399 who died during WWII, with 78,976 missing in action
The Korean War claimed 54,246 Americans service men and women killed, with 8,196 listed as “missing,” lost, or buried at sea.
The numbers are numbing, but each number represents a family member.
I never met Dale Cleveland but knew his wife as “Aunt Cat.” They were close friends with my parents.
Dale Cleveland was born in August 1917 and graduated from Texas A&M with an ROTC commission.
He occasionally smoked a cigar and taught agriculture at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.
In June 1941 Dale was activated into military service. The 531st Amphibious Regiment trained in Ireland, and participated in amphibious landings on North Africa, then Sicily.
On the morning of Sept. 9, 1943, the 36th Division made the first invasion of the European mainland at Salerno.
Before dawn they fought their way ashore and during that day Lt. Dale Cleveland was killed.
His body was returned from Italy, now resting in the small Acton Cemetery in Hood County, Texas.
Aunt Cat later married and lived a full life with children and grandchildren in South Carolina.
They’re all members of someone’s family. Some left children, many were too young to marry, almost children themselves.
Some are remembered by aging siblings or are only vaguely sketched out characters by middle-aged relatives.
Some have no one left to remember them. An odd thought on a holiday of remembrance.