One of the effects of being an expatriate is perspective on how certain occasions are marked and celebrated. A good example is Memorial Day, however it is called. Universally, it is intended to remember the soldiers, sailors and pilots that died for the country. In practice, it is marked by distinctly different customs.
In Israel, the date of remembrance of fallen soldiers is symbolically the day before Independence Day. It is clearly a day of mourning with all the incumbent symbols. People visit cemeteries where ceremonies are conducted. Starting from eve before, the name of each fallen warrior is recited as well as his/her date of death. The TV broadcasts programs about various brave young men and women that gave their lives for their country. The radio plays “quiet” (and beautiful) music. There is a siren and moment of standing silence on the eve and in the morning of the Israeli Remembrance Day. Then, rather peculiarly or maybe poetically, as the end of the day approaches, the TV broadcasts the exchanging of the flags at the Knesset (annual changing of the guards from military unit to military unit). At the end of this ceremony, there are suddenly fireworks: Independence Day has begun. Everybody can be happy now. Of course, for some, that is not such an easy task, but Israel, in following its Jewish roots, imposes joy as an antidote for endless mourning. Israeli Remembrance Day is truly a day of remembering.
By contrast, in most of the United States, it mainly marks the beginning of the summer. In military towns in the United States, such as San Diego and Norfolk to name just two, Memorial Days is marked by official military ceremonies. However, for most people, it is a long weekend. (By law, it must fall on either a Friday or Monday, which says something about the United States). People go on trips, to baseball games or shopping. People smile and laugh, but not necessarily from disrespect. The number of WWII vets is very small today. The Korean conflict was more than 65 years ago. Even the Vietnam War is already a distant time some 40 years ago. Several thousand American soldiers have died in the latest batch of Middle Eastern operations but, alas, it only directly affects a small number of families. My feeling that most of the United States has little sense of loss, leaving most Americans with the feeling that Memorial Day is a fun holiday. Have a good time.
Lest you think that I find that entirely wrong, Israeli would be a happier, albeit different, place if there were no names to recite on Remembrance Day. Yet, like a resident of any small town in Europe looking at the long list of fallen soldiers from World War I located in the corner of every church, it reinforces for me how terrible but sometimes necessary war can be.
I would be interested in hearing on how Memorial Days is marked in other countries.