As we are enjoying the long weekend; we always spend a good amount of time focusing on the meaning of Memorial Day. We especially made sure we did that when our kids were young, including a stop at our church that celebrated America and those who protect(ed) her.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in activities and events that are not related the meaning of Memorial Day in any way or just quickly in passing. It is the weekend for Americans to take their first mini-vacation of the summer season; or participate in a string of activities from picnics and bar-b-ques to block parties, from trips to the local amusement parks now on their summer schedules to postponed projects around the house or involving or taking out the ‘summer toys’ including boats, sea-doos, motor bikes and ATV’s… And before they know it the weekend is gone and nobody even mentioned the reason for Memorial Day. (And don’t get me wrong… we always watch the Indianapolis 500… Congrats to Dario Franchitti!)
I am a first generation American immigrant from a family full of more recent immigrants and one of my fondest childhood memories is of family events where I would sit and soak in the conversation and stories. My mother was German and served in the (German) Red Cross during WWII where she met my father, an Austrian soldier in a medical unit. They married in an American prisoner of war camp after the war (where the Americans made my mother a wedding gown out of gauze from the medical unit supplies). My grandparents went through WWI in Germany. My uncle and his brother served in the Korean War and their father served in the U.S. army in WWI. It was fascinating because we heard personal stories and accounts from several perspectives and since that time we have added relatives and friends who have served in Viet Nam, Somalia, the first and second Iraq conflicts and now in Afghanistan.
There is no greater country on earth than America and there is nobody that deserves more credit for the great lives we live and the freedoms we all enjoy than our Founding Fathers and our troops who have fought for us, sacrificed and given their lives to keep us safe and free for over 235 years, since before we were a nation. Unfortunately we are no longer teaching history in our schools and if you do learn some, it has generally been re-written. As citizens, parents, grandparents and patriots, it is our job to inform ourselves and to reverse this cycle by returning to teaching and learning history from “original sources” and passing it on.
If you can get there, a trip to Washington D.C. and Arlington Cemetery is the ideal Memorial Day trip or summer vacation destination. Some other great Memorial Day Weekend activities are visiting a Presidential Library or civil war battle field, watching the yearly special honoring our troops from DC, visiting a veteran’s grave locally or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reading a book about one of the wars we have fought in or about the founding of our nation and sharing about it over dinner or at an event. And watching a movie or movies (hopefully with some accuracy) about one of the wars and then perhaps following up on the history behind it is another. We all know that even the best films throw in a little “Hollywood” slant and sizzle (unfortunately sometimes too much), but the right movies can be a great place to spark our children’s interest in history and a jump off point for us to learn more!
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Some years, like this Memorial Day Weekend, when gas prices are high and the economy is slow a great weekend is just staying local and participating in or attending the city parade or event, visiting a nearby cemetery, catching the yearly PBS Memorial Day Special from DC and spending your time at home with family, friends (or even alone) eating some comfort food, reading a worthwhile book related to the holiday or our history and/or creating your own film festival of war movies. Below are a few to start with. There are many more that you can add to the selection. One of my favorite movies for both Memorial Day and the 4th of July is Yankee Doodle Dandy about George M. Cohan, starring James Cagney. It is a musical that some might say is a bit corny, but it highlights the patriotic music of our country and somewhat balances out the serious and somber war movies. The songs therein were songs every American child learned in school and every American could sing until recent years.
A few movie suggestions (always good and great at Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Veterans Day):
Tunes of Glory (post-WWII): A well-regarded 1960 film starring Alec Guinness and John Mills in post-war Scotland.
Hope and Glory (WWII): Funny and touching, it tells the story of the British home-front in World War II.
Danger UXB (WWII) (hard to find): A TV series from my mom’s post-Brideshead Revisited phase. It also takes place on the British home-front with a squad in charge of defusing unexploded German bombs (“UXBs”).
The Bridge on the River Kwai (WWII, pictured above): An all-time classic, again starring Alec Guiness and William Holden. A great collection for WWII buffs is the WWII 60th Anniversary Collection (The Guns of Navarone/From Here to Eternity/The Bridge on the River Kwai) (Includes Collectible Scrapbook)
Mrs. Miniver (WWII): More from the British home-front, starring Greer Garson.
The War – PBS 7-Part Special Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (WWII): A “Peoples History” of WWII with all original footage and photos.
Lawrence of Arabia (WWI): Another classic, and one of my favorite “see it on the big screen” type of movie.
Gallipoli (WWI): Not exactly uplifting, but a powerful drama.
Joyeux Noel (WWI): Another one from the Great War. It’s based on a true event in which opposing armies take a respite for the holiday. (Special Collection) I remember my dad telling stories like this from WWII.
Platoon (Viet Nam War): Best Picture of the Year Oscar Winner (1986) that was part of Oliver Stone’s trilogy of Vietnam War films, also including Born on the Fourth of July (1989) — winner of two Academy Awards and Heaven & Earth (1993)
The Patriot (Blu-Ray) (Revolutionary War): An emotional, vivid, and palpable story about a South Carolina Family during the Revolutionary War with an excellent cast including Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.
Black Hawk Down (Somalia Conflict): Depicting the Battle of Mogadishu, a raid integral to the United States’ effort to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
North & South (Civil War mini-series): An epic series with Patrick Swayze and Kirstie Alley.
The Hurt Locker (Iraq-Afghanistan Conflicts) The little film that beat out the mega monen blockbuster; won the 2010 Best Picture of the Year Oscar.
Others worth a mention including some of my own favorites: Patton, The Clock, The Great Escape, Stalag 17, Casablanca, The Guns of Navarone, The Deer Hunter, Glory, Breaker Morant (hard to find DVD (VHS), We Were Soldiers, Midway, Dr. Strangelove, Buffalo Soldiers, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Forgotten Grave, The True Story of the Fighting Sullivans…, All Quiet on the Western Front, Band of Brothers, John Adams, Gone with the Wind… my favorite movie of all time.
Some great books to start or re-start your journey through America’s history with are: The Real George Washington; The Original Argument, A Patriot’s History of the United States…, Original Intent, Giants, The 5000 Year Leap, Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, The Greatest Generation (on Kindle), War Letters, Being George Washington and Killing Lincoln.
There are many many more great films about American involved wars and the troops who fought them. Sorry if I missed one of your favorites! Unfortunately… “Freedom Is Not Free!!”, so we owe those who fought for us the respect of remembering and remembering the truth.
God Bless America, our troops, our veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and their families!