Memorial Day is coming soon, and it is the oddest of holidays. The observance began just after the Civil War, and was originally called Decoration Day. It was not officially declared a national holiday until 1971.
The day has one purpose, and one purpose only; to honor those who have fallen in battle. The “decoration” terminology refers to the earliest traditions of “decorating” the graves of the fallen with an American Flag and sometimes flowers. It is the most solemn of holidays.
It is also the most ignored. Memorial Day has become the unofficial “first day of summer”, even though summer does not really start until June 21st. Stores have “Memorial Day” sales, resort areas open in high gear, and barbecues abound. There are Memorial Day services, to be sure, and they are held all around the country. But they are often sparsely attended, mostly by veterans or those who have lost someone in war. The somber day has been co-opted into a glitzy Memorial-Day-Sale-go-to-the-beach-have-a-barbecue-day.
I used to get angry at the way Memorial Day had become perverted. To make it worse, they moved the traditional May 30th date of the holiday to one of those floating Monday holidays, making a long weekend and giving people a day off. Ironically, the people in the armed forces don’t get off.
I’ve been thinking about it a bit lately, and have asked myself “What would Monin think?”.
Francis George Monin was a friend of mine, a very good friend. We served together in the Marines, two years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. He was in my wedding. He was killed on July 5, 1967, twenty-nine days after arriving in Vietnam. He was 20 years old when he died.
Monin was from Buffalo, New York. I met him at the Marine Corps Sea School in Portsmouth Va. We trained together there for eventual assignment to one of the ships in the Navy fleet. In those days, large ships, carriers, cruisers, battleships carried a detachment of Marines, usually about 60. This was a tradition going back to the Revolutionary War. We trained together, and spent the next two years aboard ship. In April 1967, our tour was up. I went home to get married, and on to Camp Lejeune. Monin went to Vietnam.
We heard about Monin getting killed, and decided to name our first child, if it was boy, after Monin. My son was born on March 28, 1968, ironically while I was in Vietnam. His name is Francis, but everyone calls him Frank.
We never called Monin “Francis” or “Frank” or anything like that. He was always just “Monin”. That moniker later evolved into “Monin Marine”. He got that nickname because Monin was a true Marine. It was all he ever wanted to be; a John Wayne Marine. He was solid, and steady and completely dependable. You could count on Monin for anything. He was one of the true patriots.
He also liked to have fun. Monin was a beer drinker, and we drank a lot of beer during those years. When we were in port, Monin and I would frequently go into Boston’s notorious “combat zone” to drink on off-duty nights. The combat zone was the area in Boston where the sailors and Marines hung out. There used to be an area like that in many cities, places the civilians generally avoided and the military people partied.
And drink we did. We usually got something to eat, sometimes took in a movie, and then hit the bars. We would stagger back to the ship in the wee small hours, always stopping at a local greasy spoon for a 3am breakfast before going to the ship for a few hours sleep. Monin insisted that eating breakfast then would prevent a hangover. It didn’t work, but we did it anyway.
We had good times; lots of them. Monin loved to tell jokes. He wasn’t real good at it, but he told them to anyone who would listen. He liked to have fun. He was always in for any adventure. He was always up; I never saw him down.
Monin would like barbecues, especially if there was beer. He would like a get-together with friends where he could tell his jokes. He enjoyed life, and enjoyed being with his fellow Marines. He wouldn’t want people grieving over him.
I think if I were having a Memorial Day barbecue, Monin would be one of the first I would invite. He would come and have a good time.
So yeah, Memorial Day has a purpose; maybe more than one. Remember those who have fallen to keep you free. Plant a flag, say a prayer. Then go out and have fun.
That’s what Monin would do.