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Peacetime Soldier

Peacetime Soldier
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Welcome to the May 2011 edition of
“Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather
curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

Peacetime Soldier

During my three years in the army, I never experienced combat, and I feel so fortunate for that. Except on one particular day in May . . .

It seems to me that Memorial Day brings a New England community together like no other holiday. Although the gathering on the town green (or, in Dublin, New Hampshire, in the Yankee parking lot) and subsequent march to the cemetery are annual rites to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in behalf of our country, the occasion is also somehow a celebration of survival. The leaves are finally on the trees again, the grass is green, and the annual appearance of old uniforms from long ago reminds us that we’ve made it through another winter.

Maybe the general is now too weak to march all the way to the cemetery, but he still looks magnificent in his uniform, sitting in the open car carrying several other old soldiers. There are the Johnsons back from wintering in Florida — and could that handsome young man in a Marine uniform be their little grandson, Tommie? It’s wonderful to chat with people prior to the parade, people I haven’t seen in a year. And, yes, the high school band sounds better than ever, even if they change the beat from time to time and miss a note here and there. The minister’s speech at the cemetery is inspiring, and I’m always happily surprised to see our former postman in a sailor suit.

Alas, I can no longer quite fit into the uniform I once wore as a member of the 3rd Armored Division in Germany during the 1950s. But I wouldn’t for the world miss marching on Memorial Day. So I spruce up in a clean white shirt, tie, and blue blazer. Some of the other veterans around me aren’t in uniform, either. However, they’re all friends and neighbors, so I don’t need to see battle ribbons to know who experienced the horrors of war, faced death, and lost friends. When people along our route break out in applause as we march by, I know it’s truly for them. I was a peacetime soldier.

As always, I’m looking forward to once again participating in this year’s Memorial Day parade and festivities. But I must confess that it’s the only day of the year when I wish, deep down, that I were one of those who’d gone to war; that the applause could be for me, too.

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Peacetime Soldier

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