By Ernie Palladino
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By the time the sun sets today, numerous towns and cities will have run Memorial Day races. Weather permitting, beachgoers will have a problem finding a patch of sand big enough to accommodate their blanket and umbrella.
As sports fans, we’ll gather at the baseball stadium or the TV, chomping on those barbequed treats as we agonize over Curtis Granderson’s second trip to the DL and Ike Davis’ hitting woes, or debate on when, exactly, the respective rise and fall of our local teams will hit the reverse button.
For most of us, today climaxes the kickoff to summer, a celebration of all things warm and outdoorsy. But it really isn’t, is it? We shouldn’t really CELEBRATE Memorial Day, should we? Today, we OBSERVE. We remember the ones who didn’t come back from past and present conflicts overseas. We pray that our loved ones in uniform come home safely from wherever they serve.
That doesn’t mean sports loses its place on this day. We can certainly enjoy the beginning of the Subway Series at Citi Field tonight. It’s an exciting time. And in a manner, it fits in with the day. Sports always has.
The Memorial Days of my youth folded in observance and celebration quite nicely. The day started with a parade. Unlike so many of the sparsely-attended marches we see these days, the whole town turned out for ours. We were a small town, but people lined up three deep along the three-mile route from the World War II monument, down the main road, and finally to the American Legion hall.
The Legionnaires, flags flying, all WWII and Korean War vets at that time, snapped to in their dress blues with gold trim, my dad with rifle slung over shoulder as part of the honor guard that would deliver the memorial volleys at parade’s end. The Gold Star Mothers, whose sons made the ultimate sacrifice, followed in convertibles. Then came the high school band, the Little Leaguers, the cops and fire department — if you were good, mom would take you to ring the pumper truck’s bell afterward — and the old Forty-And-Eight, a rolling replica of the French steam train that ferried our doughboys to the front in WWI.
Solemn ceremonies came after the marching stopped. An invocation, the 21-gun salute, Taps.
And then we had fun. Out came the bocce balls for some spirited matches between the vets. Then the pickup softball games. Then the barbeque, with half the crowd tuned to the Yanks or Mets on the transistor radios.
It all fit together, the observance and celebration, and rightfully so. Sports had been as much of those veterans’ lives as they are of today’s soldiers. There’s a reason the NFL sends a pack of coaches and players yearly to Germany, Afghanistan and other places on those USO handshake tours. Soldiers root for those people even as they hunt terrorists abroad, just as my father never stopped rooting for the New York Baseball Giants as he readied the planes of Foggia airfield in Italy for their bomb runs over the Ploesti oil fields. Just as his cousin Ciro never halted his rabid, albeit misguided, love for the Boston Braves as he hacked through the jungle carnage of Guadalcanal.
They made it home in one piece. They knew plenty who didn’t. So on this one day, before the bocce and softball, the food, and wrangling us rambunctious kids, they wore their pride for the many who couldn’t.
As we prepare to enjoy all the blessings our American freedom bestow on us, let’s first remember that it all comes with a price far higher than any field level box.
Observe first, just for a few minutes. Then we can celebrate.
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