There’s a lot that can be said about Memorial Day—or Decoration Day, as it used to be called—and I suppose for most all of it, that has already been done. While media outlets, news sources, books, magazines, and all sorts of professional communicators have tackled the subject, there is one more venue which provides a particular perspective: the blog which focuses on the micro-history aspect of military service from a family’s perspective.
To be sure, I’ve been able to do my share of such blogging. Though Memorial Day history extends back to the aftermath of the Civil War, because of genealogical research, I can even write about my great-great-great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, who, long before that Civil War era, fought in the Seminole Wars. Closer to our own life span, I’ve been honored to be able to transcribe the letters home from one very young seaman serving in the Pacific during significant battles like Iwo Jima and Okinawa—my father-in-law, Frank Stevens.
There are others who are blogging about their family links to the wars of the last century. I’d like to take some time today to highlight these, so that, in reading them yourself, you can reflect on the micro-perspective of what military service has meant to others.
In addition, I’m sharing some resources that I hope will help you gather your own thoughts about any of your own family members in such roles, and guide you as you honor them by capturing their stories while they may still be documented.
In Genealogy Imaginings, a blog new to me, I find a touching story of the pain of losing a family member to war. The author explores the indications of a painful silence she finds as she combs through family papers seeking any mention of her grandmother’s brother, a pilot-in-training who dies during World War II.
The Daly History Blog comes at the subject from a different approach, by virtue of the writer’s British perspective, reviewing a book about an agency which seeks those who went missing in action during World War II.
The Curious Genealogist discusses the deft use of personal narratives in fleshing out your story of family members who served during war time—and encourages veterans, themselves, to tell their own story, as painful as the process may seem. Those stories need to be preserved. Others will need to remember this, too. One statement in this article particularly struck me:
I had a cousin who was a young medic on Omaha Beach. He told me that you grow up quickly when you have your best friend die in your arms.
This same post, “Finding Family Members Who Fought in World War II,” announces the creation of a research guide by that same title. It includes lists of useful books and links to websites helpful for those wishing to research their relatives who served during that time period.
Local historical societies and museums get in the act with their own posts, too. After extending an invitation to their readers to attend a presentation regarding the battlefields of Europe during World War II, the Hubbard County, Minnesota, Historical Museum reminds readers to, simply, Thank A Soldier. And going back to the original inspiration for this holiday’s designation, my own county’s Historical Society’s blog reviewed a book remembering those Civil War veterans. Even though the Civil War was not fought in our region, of course, we have a legacy of many veterans from both sides of the conflict settling here—and eventually being buried here. Though not a direct commentary on the purposes the holiday was intended for, the blog post does note that the book includes a researcher-friendly burial index for Civil War veterans in this area.
A final posting of note to me—particularly because it resonates with the work I’ve been doing in researching my father-in-law’s story—is a recent entry by DearMYRTLE. She is mainly passing along a press release from the National Archives and Records Administration concerning the restoration of a post-World War II documentary. The subject of the film is the rehabilitation of war-scarred veterans—treatment for a debilitating condition which would, in our current times, be classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This brings up personal remembrances of relatives mentioning that my own father-in-law came back vastly different than when he went to war. It brings to mind the type of sentiment shared in the blog post I mentioned above, The Curious Genealogist:
Only the combat veteran who has gone through battle understands its deep, personal costs. They deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our understanding, and our deep respect.
The movie, what it meant at the time it was originally due to be released, and what it represents for families like ours, will be something I’d like to discuss tomorrow, on Memorial Day.
In the meantime, while you enjoy your holiday weekend, always remember the great sacrifices made by those many others, over the years, who have put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.
Photograph: The USS LCI(R) 707 firing rockets during the initial assault on Iwo Jima, February 9, 1945.