Russell and Duenes

All in Los Angeles are Dead: Reflections on Memorial Day

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This piece was originally written by my colleague, Curt Russell, for Memorial Day, 2009.

I learned about Memorial Day, or as it was called years ago Decoration Day, as many American kids have.  My Grandfather, a World War II Navy veteran, would celebrate it by going to the local Navy Memorial in Cincinnati to remember the somberness of service to our country.  My Mom and Dad would take us to the local morning parade and then to the graves of our lost family members in the afternoon.  My teachers would tell me that Memorial Day is the day we celebrate the men (they often didn’t mention the women and children) who died so that we can be “free.”  In other words I was taught that Memorial Day actually means something.  And not just a day off of work and a day without junk mail.  I learned that it is a day to reflect on what American military servicemen (and servicewomen) have sacrificed so that I can raise my children in liberty.

In 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a speech about the significance of Memorial Day. He laid bare a stark sense of awe when he said: “But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead… their ghosts sit at a table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves–the dead come back and live with us.”  This is what strikes me heavily on Memorial Day; The sheer number of those who “come back and live with us.”  It may sound odd that I will now mention the current population of Los Angeles: 4 million people.  Surprisingly, this is also the approximate number of men, women and children who have died in service to America as a result of all U.S. Wars fought and the aftermath of its destruction.   What would happen if Los Angeles would simply lose its entire population to war or even to natural disaster?  What if one day we woke up and people were simply not there.  Would we grieve?  Would we remember those who lived there, both those we had known and those we did not?  If December 7th and September 11th taught us anything, it is that “when one falls, we all fall.”

Today, on Memorial Day, I also reflect on the “what could have been.”  What if America had not lost those in war we celebrate?  What would our nation be like?  I think it would be safe to guess that we would be one of the most populated countries on earth, if not the most populated.  Our American landscape would be drastically different.  Our ingenuity and resources altered for a vastly far removed America: one billion, two billion, or maybe three billion more people?  Memorial Day should also be a day when we remember them as well; those that never had a chance to be.  So today, let us reflect on Los Angeles and its 4 million strong-as a living remembrance of “the dead that come back and live with us” and let us also remember those that never had a chance to be.



Written by Michael Duenes

May 26, 2014 at 8:12 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections, Russell

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