Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day (Weekend) in S.A.

When I was a boy growing up in Boise, I remember well, Memorial Day was always on 30 May. (This was before the Monday holiday bill was passed by a Congress more interested in catering to their leisure-craving, pleasure-seeking constituents than in seeking to ensure that we Americans might remember WHY certain holidays were being observed.) Public schools always let out on 30 May for Memorial Day, and Dad, Mom, sister Debbie and I would go get Grandma Graham and go decorate Grandpa Graham's grave in Boise's Cloverdale Cemetery. Cloverdale is like Arlington and other national cemeteries, in that all tombstones are alike. Due to the family custom, it was only well into my adult years that I discovered that Memorial Day wasn't really for remembering all the dead but rather for honoring the military dead, especially those who died in combat.

Considering the all-too-often-forgotten true reason for the holiday, it's not surprising that Memorial Day is observed with fervor in San Antonio. This city is often called a "military town" due to its crucial Army post, Fort Sam Houston, its two Air Force installations (that used to be four) including Lackland AFB, the "Gateway of the Air Force" where all enlistees get their basic training, and its large military retiree population. Well, all this and the historic fact that a military post of some sort has existed here since four days after the initial Franciscan mission was founded, since on that day el Presidio de San Antonio de BĂ©xar came into existence to defend that mission.

So, don't be surprised, dear reader, that I participated in a Memorial Day-oriented event. It was the Tobin Endowment Concert on Fort Sam, featuring S.A.'s own world-class Symphony. My brother Patrick came and got me in mid-afternoon and took me to his quarters. While my sister-in-law LaRae was preparing other food items, he grilled beef for fajitas out on the front porch.

During this food preparation, we had a video tele-conference with our sister Debbie in Berkeley, California. She'd just received her M.Div. at an Episcopal seminary there and Mom was visiting her. On our end we were three: LaRae, Patrick and me. And on their end, way out west, they were three: Debbie, Mom and Teresa, Debbie's friend.

Adding to the excitement of this unprecedented "family reunion" of sorts, was that the Phoenix spacecraft landed on the planet Mars, and we all followed the landing on television! Here we watched the Science Channel coverage; we could also have viewed it on the NASA Channel -- Patrick and LaRae get hundreds of channels thru Fort Sam. The folk in Berkeley had some other channel on; it was interesting to compare notes on what each network was covering. It was touching when the Phoenix spacecraft had landed safely, and the scientists and engineers in Mission Control cheered wildly and hugged one other. This reminded me of my boyhood, when we'd all follow televised coverage of, first the Mercury space flights, then Gemini, then the Apollo moon voyages. There WAS a striking visual difference. Way back then, on our black-and-white screen were white males in white dress shirts and dark ties; now we were seeing a mixture of genders and races, all garbed in dark blue polo shirts.

After the excitement of the Phoenix landing and of the Graham family tele-reunion (or family e-reunion) we three on Fort Sam devoured beef fajitas and accompanying items. Yum, yum! Then, as the sun approached the western horizon, we went to the same area of the very-long MacArthur Field where this year's Fiesta Fort Sam had taken place. We found seats on low, aluminum bleachers at the edge of the field just as the program commenced.

Emcee Joe Pags, a WOAI radio personality, greeted everybody and introduced a couple of officials who spoke briefly. They were US Senator John Cornyn and County Judge Nelson Wolff. Then the Conductor took over the program and led the San Antonio Symphony in an eclectic musical celebration. Much of it was patriotic music, since this WAS a Memorial Day concert. And since this IS an Army post in a military city (as explained in my second paragraph), the Symphony presented the anthems of the five armed services. Members and veterans of each branch were invited to stand up and sing during their anthem. Being used to these commencing with the Army's, as happens in Fiesta Texas' "Lone Star Spectacular" -- which I'd seen for the first time in '08 just last Saturday night -- as soon as I heard musical notes coming from the stage and the Symphony, I stood up. Only then I realized that what they started with this evening was the Navy anthem! I'm glad that in the darkening dusk nobody could see my reddening face!

We heard Sousa marches and "America the Beautiful", and the finale was Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Yes, dear reader, the one with booming cannons, or howitzers as we call them in the Army. And wow! the fireworks show was even more spectacular than those I'd see at other Fort Sam events!

Thus, even tho' I had to work at the theme park on the observed Memorial Day, I still remembered. And celebrated -- with family! And some unusual elements (the Mars landing and the video tele-reunion)!

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