The Spirit of Summer and Patriotism
Thank God it finally got warm, albeit a little hot this past week. But I’m sure that I’m not the only one who was fearing that it would never get warm, and that the rain would never stop. OK, somehow spring passed us by, but so what. It’s finally time for camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, and sitting out on the porch late at night to share some laughs and cold beverages with friends and family.
My delight over warmer days was overwhelmed by emotion for a few minutes on Monday morning when I parked as close as I could to Main Street in Tunkhannock to take a few photos of the annual Memorial Day Parade. Hundreds of people—maybe more than 1,000—arrived early to set up lawn chairs along the parade route. Even more stepped outside their bustling shops and eateries as the percussion from the approaching marching units began to echo off the walls of the borough’s historic edifices, including the refurbished Dietrich Theater and Wyoming County Cultural Center.
American flags and red, white and blue bunting were prevalent as far as the eye could see. Entire families decked out in patriotic attire held one foot in the street as they strained to see the honor guard of local veterans who led the procession. The men and women who represented the five branches of the military looked particularly astute in their military uniforms. Several veterans marching with Vietnam T-shirts spoke silently for a generation and a time when the public did not condone the efforts and sacrifices they made on our collective behalf, let alone afford them the welcome that they deserved upon their return home.
But I believe that America has grown to understand the role that our military plays in protecting and encouraging freedom here and around the world. While everyone may not agree with where our troops are at a particular time or exactly how they are engaged in struggles there, we may have finally come to the understanding that the men and women in uniform are there for us.
The Vietnam era of the ’60s and early ’70s were also my formulative years. I heard the arguments for and against the conflict on the other side of the world without knowing how it began or why it seemed to end without a decisive victory like all those great wars I had read about in history books. It wasn’t until I became old enough to talk to Vietnam war veterans in taverns or interview them for some of my earliest stories that I began to understand and feel (as little as one in my position could) the frustration and needless shame coupled with resilience and an unwavering love for their country that these people displayed.
Although they had changed my perception about military conflict and service, I wasn’t convinced that most Americans were yet on the same page. Perhaps there are still pockets of the nation where patriotism has not enjoyed the same sort of comeback as it has in small towns and villages like Tunkhannock, Towanda, Wyalusing, Montrose, and Black Walnut, but what happened next as the first wave of veterans passed me gave me hope that, despite our personal differences, Americans can still be united at certain moments.
I heard some people clapping, which built into a steady applause as older veterans were shuttled down the parade route in classic cars. The people were saluting, some with hands to their foreheads, others with hands on their hearts. They smiled, the children waved little flags, and some of the veterans wept. The spirit of the event seemed to keep growing, as the parade-goers applauded hometown heroes like members of the Triton Hose Company, as well as future heroes like the Girl Scouts and 4-H members.
The Tunkhannock High School Marching Band played “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and bagpipers accompanying the proud and dapper fire company personnel played “Anchors Aweigh” and other military branch theme songs.
I blinked several times. There was a part of me that wasn’t sure that seeing and hearing was believing. Maybe, just maybe, we had returned to a state of grace where civic and military pride could meet. Maybe that spirit will carry into the coming generations. Maybe America isn’t going to Hell after all. And maybe I was weeping too—for all of those lost years when we weren’t where Tunkhannock was that fine summer day.
(Numerous photos and two video clips from the Tunkhannock Memorial Day Parade can be found online at www.rocket-courier.com).