Lt. Bobby Ross
“DO SOMETHING, Lieutenant. Right or wrong, do something!”
He learned this lesson at a young age when he was an officer candidate in OCS (Officer Candidate School). It probably sums him up better than any other factor. “Do something!” In Vietnam he sure did that! But, that was long ago. Over three decades ago, Bobby Ross’ first record hit the airwaves and a legend in American folklore began. That song was titled: “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”. A country ballad about a “brave young Indian boy” who fought to the top of a mountain on a small Pacific Island, infamously known to American Marines as Iwo Jima, only to return home to an America that despised him.
Bobby Ross sings about American veterans. In the early 1960’s, a troubling time and a time America cannot be too proud of, considering how she treated her Vietnam veterans, yet Bobby was out there in Berkeley, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, in Veteran hospitals, singing about his heroes, to his wounded champions: America’s warriors. His music inspires, encourages, and most importantly; heals. An exciting and productive life he has led. Can he fathom his achievement of reaching an age old enough to join the Army in 1966? And then journey to Vietnam? He did. Why did he live through that war? It’s a miracle. Many of his friends in Music City know he has been successful, right in the heart of Music Row. Bobby Ross lived there for over 20 years, the only Country Music recording artist who did so. He taught many people in the music business there how to survive and prosper. His home overlooked most all of Music City’s music industry, with his Webb Pierce guitar shaped swimming pool and Owen Bradley’s Park out his window, he was Music Row’s caretaker. He watched Music Row grow up and around his swimming hole and his garden. This was his world! The fulfillment of a promise he made to all those unsung heroes who lost their lives under his command in a faraway place. He pledged that he would live his life to the fullest. This word of honor has not been broken. A hallowed place was his on Music Row.
WHAT IS MEMORIAL DAY?
My years whirl past me. Swirling. Dry, broken grass hovering in a spring breeze. Can I remember my experiences in war? Hardly. Fighting for my country, my youth invested, seems such a long time ago, and so unimportant. The calendar this year marks Memorial Day on the 29th of May, 2000. Have I lost something? The traditional Memorial Day, also known as Decoration Day, is on the 30th of May. This observed Memorial Day on May 29th coincidentally allows for a national three day holiday. Such is commercialism’s capitalistic American display. But why do I feel so stricken, like I have abandoned old friends from long ago? Their ghosts consort with my floating years, and their spirits coast around my presence.
Another three day holiday! Memorial Day! Maybe me and the kids can go camping? Or, to the beach? Memorial Day is fun! This is the inconsiderate, thoughtless approach to this meaningful, and consecrated moment representing one three hundred and sixty-fifth of our year. What is the meaning of Memorial Day? Is it merely a three day escape from our worldly duties? Or, is it the official beginning of summer? Is selling more hot dogs at the ballpark the overriding clarification?
Many souls, sacrificed in war, in duty to America, are wandering. They drift in a heavenly place, minus their future here upon earth. Tomorrows were forfeited. Given up so our nation would invigorate free souls, inspiring them to freedom, and justly allow their lives lived as they prefer. Raising offspring above restrictions, as they desire. Those lost lives giving we, the living, what we want freely. Those are the souls we respect on Memorial Day. This means it is a sacred day.
Without retrospect, sacrifice is mute. Old Glory does not wave by accident. It flutters in the spring air revealing honor. The color red represents the blood bloom from those who fell, those who clawed: those who cried in horrible pain. Those who died fast. And, those who died ever so slowly. They did their duty. When I see Old Glory waving on a sunny, end of May day, the pigment red gushes from millions of souls floating, not with us, anymore. They are amongst our heroes, cajoling with angels with their champions, conquerors and commanders. Friends and loved ones gather, over the grave, witness to those who gave more than anyone should be required to relinquish. They did not want to yield. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when the moment harshly struck them their fatal blow, they cried for their mother, or their friend. Then there were those, many of those, who knew exactly what they were giving. They moved forward knowingly. They lost their lives so their mission would be accomplished.
Fools! Some intellects can say that. One would have to be an imbecile to give up life, no matter what the cause. For a flag? Futile! For a country! More pointless! For freedom! What freedom is there in mortality? Yes, fools they may have been, but their numbers add up in an awesome display of American loss! Veterans’ Cemeteries, white badges sailing row after row after row upon green grass, almost never ending, creeping onto the horizon: constant reminders of the devastation of our human treasure. Mothers’ tears, enough to fill an ocean to overflow. Sweethearts, broken hearted, reading telegrams. Sons and daughters, many unborn, wakening at birth to a devastated family suffering from a victim of war there no more. And what does all this macabre math equal? Memorial Day is the correct answer.
Few Americans know a person who died in war. Their family trees have lost some leaves, falling as they fought in one of America’s wars, or discarded in the peacetime military. We are a busy people. We have business to capture. Our kids are in school. We have chores. Mundane, or surrealistic. We are a spirited society, seeking applications to improve ourselves and our communities. We are a helpful populace, always there when the going gets tough to help those who have suffered the tragedies of nature, whether a hurricane or a famine. Americans are always the first on the scene worldwide bearing their gifts of human spirit and abundance. This is why it is so puzzling that the meaning of Memorial Day seems to lack substance to many of our own people. Even with the day itself. Put back to accommodate a holiday schedule fixed by some organism no one knows, yet powerful enough to do so, the day itself lacks consequence to too many. Many who never knew a person who died in service to America are wrought with the invisible pain of not feeling for those who do.
Americans take things for granted. We have so much. So very much. Endless choices. These options are not available worldwide. Our shelves are full. Unlike many in other nations of the world. So many are empty or offer very limited selections. Those American fighting men and women killed in battle whose souls are floating actually made available these wondrous choices we have every day of our American lives. Yet, most of our youngsters have no idea whatsoever what this means. They don’t learn this in school. We must teach them. For without knowledge, they may end up thinking, or believing, all these marvelous selections came without circumstance. Minus anything. Equaling no meaning.
Our nation needs to halt and perceive the flags and flowers on our Veterans graves on this consecrated holiday. We need to lift a common voice of adoration to those floating spirits of our onetime American Warriors, and extol them with a salutation. We have not come that far with our technological miracles of this millennium to become crass. We still need respect. Our backs cannot turn from formality. Our eyes cannot look away from custom. Our voices must not resonate in silence against honor and glory. To do so will leave us hollow, only to fill us with that which is desolate and lacking potential. This is not the true meaning of Memorial Day. The heartfelt significance requires reminding. Story telling. Wisdom being passed on from our Veterans to our younger generations. An interpretation certified by those who remember the horrors of war. Without this core, our society cannot remain genuine. It becomes contemptible. It rots from within. These floating souls of our lost American Warriors are a powerful force, for they live within our hearts. They constantly seek justification for their contributions, and they are real within us. Such is what our American substance stands for, where character is developed, individually is guaranteed, and a community, a nation, survives.
America enters the 21th Century as the most powerful entity humankind has ever experienced. America permeates this next century with vast responsibilities. Our children must bear this promise. We cannot turn our backs on these bygone descendants, nor can we do so upon ourselves. Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to express a moment of solitude where each of us can personify in our own way what we feel. I only speak for myself, as one who has bared his soul to the dread of war. So my father did, and his father’s father before him – and their souls float amongst the multitudes. My mother and her mother held their Veterans after they returned from war, tears streaming down their cheeks in gratitude for their safe return. And there were those in my ancestry who did not return from war. And their mothers’ tears soaked the pillows on beds for generations to sleep upon. Their souls are the dreams that drift amongst the floating, gathering at the end of May in the breeze of summer’s coming, in the cool glass of lemonade at the child’s street side stand, in the cheers at the ball game from the crowd rooting their team to victory and enjoying the best hot dogs in the world. Let us all stop for a moment, whether it is on the traditional day, or the observed Memorial Day, or even at the end of May, and reach for those floating souls. Let us reveal to them how much we cherish their sacrifice for our free people. Let these memories harvest our recognition of the meaning of Memorial Day in a very simple word. And let that word, simply stated be: Thanks.
©Copyright 2000 by Lt Bobby Ross