EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces in one of the 123 wars this country has been engaged in. Carleton Cronin, likely one of the few West Hollywood residents who has served in the armed forces, chronicles a celebration of Memorial Day in May 1956 from an interesting point of view.
MEMORIAL DAY 1956
A cantata for three voices and chorus
FIRST and SECOND SOLDIER –
…Hear those damned drums again!
-Sad. And they walk so slowly.
…Suppose there are more flags this year.
-Everybody wants to carry a flag.
…That new monument –
-..crushed Casey’s coffin.
-Yes. Of course there wasn’t much of him in it.
… Should have used a smaller box.
… More coffins.
The mayor takes a deep breath..
He’s said all this before.
The crowd stamps on the ground,
Dusting their shoes, and sighs.
FIRST SOLDIER and THIRD SOLDIER
…The mayor must be fatter this year.
-He puffs harder.
…Same old song.
-There’s a new senator.
…Same old song.
…No new words.
-Same old song.
…Why don’t they leave us alone?
Good weather now, rain last year.
The soldiers check their creases.
The auxiliary ladies fuss with their
Pointed caps – and the voices drone on.
FIRST SOLDIER and THIRD SOLDIER –
-You’re the “old soldier “here –
but I forget why..
…Because I was the first one in the cemetery.
-Oh. Did they know who you were?
…No. Even I forgot who I was.
-I remember who I was.
-My first name was Arthur.
…Don’t tell me more.
-I don’t know more.
…It’s just as well.
A breeze slaps the lanyard
Against the flagstaff and
The flag moves out sullenly,
A half-hearted wave.
SECOND SOLDIER and THIRD SOLDIER –
-I think I used to be a printer.
…What did you print?
-Wedding announcements and –
…You should have made flags.
-I’d have made them larger.
This one is a little tight.
…It’s meant to be.
The mayor speaks, the past
Commander speaks, the new
Senator speaks, the flag
Waves again – rifles fire.
FIRST SOLDIER and SECOND SOLDIER –
…We used to call a rifle salute a fusillade.
-We called it a rifle salute.
…That’s what the mayor said.
-He must have forgot…
…He’s never been out of the state.
Birds fly from trees and dogs
Spin around in fright.
Legionnaires look for their
Cars as the bugle sounds.
FIRST SOLDIER, SECOND SOLDIER and THIRD SOILDIER –
…Look at them shaking hands and nodding.
-Are they old friends?
…No. They forgot where they met
and just need to reassure each other.
-Taps. The bugler plays Taps.
ALL VOICES and CHORUS –
Underground, the corpses
Do not care.
Another monument above them
Compresses the earth
And makes them rot faster.
Tears which once watered
The plots now are dried and
The ground would wither
But for the rain from a tending God.
Carleton Cronin – May, 1956