Left Justified: Another memorable Memorial Day

May 25, 2011

By Stanley Campbell

Memorials to the war dead are too prolific. Not that our guys (and gals) don’t deserve them. Oh no, just the opposite. There are too many memorials because too many youngsters (and a few old farts) died in these latest “police actions.” And whether we need so many wars, we still must honor those who died. But that does not make the wars any more justifiable, or even necessary.

Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee hosts their annual Memorial Day Service at 7 p.m., Monday, May 30, at JustGoods Meeting Room, 201 Seventh St., free and open to the public. Besides remembering all those killed by war (and yes, we remember civilians as well as soldiers—they seem to be the main casualties nowadays), our service will also remember those who fought against war.

This year, we remember Betty Johnson, a former League of Women Voters member, an active Presbyterian and local peace activist. It was Betty who encouraged us to commemorate the Hiroshima bombings and pray for no more nuclear weapons. She returned from Japan with a peace lantern, from Nicaragua with fair-trade coffee, and from the League of Women Voters to take on the Byron Nuclear Power Plant.

Betty’s picture will be hung in our little memorial gallery. Her picture will join others who locally gave their all for peace: nutritionist Edie Applegate was instrumental in the CROP Hunger Walk that raised funds for local and overseas hunger relief. Katie VanRaden was a poet and a peace activist in her own special way. David Liddell counseled youth, the Rev. Maynard Beal was my mentor.

This year’s Memorial Day service will be short and sweet. Music, some poems, a remembrance or two and then some snacks. Nothing special. My friend Doug Kamholz (the creator of Storefront Cinema, now living in Springfield, Ill.) sent me a wonderful missive about his 1970 Memorial Day memories. I’d like to share it with you:

“This Memorial Day marks the 40th anniversary of that holiday parade in Rockton where my first wife, Louise, myself and my old, recently deceased friend Jerry stepped uninvited into the rear of the procession. We were carrying our homemade coffin emblazoned with ‘40,000 Dead Kids,’ and we were wearing our Army khakis (Doug is a veteran, as am I—Stan’s note). Louise trailed behind, shrouded in black and cradling a bouquet of pilfered irises.

“Parents along the route turned their children’s heads so as not to see. We placed the coffin at the base of the flag stanchion in the graveyard, where the reading of the dead was taking place. It was smashed to splinters by National Guardsmen using their rifle butts. We were lucky to escape unscathed. And to her eternal credit, my high school English teacher came and stood by us; bless her.

“You invited me to recount this tale. I much appreciate that. I wonder sometimes how I would feel if that was the only protest I’d done. I have friends who did one thing ‘back then’ and still need to call upon that moment of glory or resistance, or whatever you call it, when they wish to feel they participated in ‘The Sixties’ or ‘The Revolution’ or, to use Marcuse’s phrase, ‘The Great Refusal.’

“I am glad so much of my life continues to jump into parades with upsetting messages and bouquets of flowers. I will add here only that both my friend Jerry and I were from Rockton, Ill. I had been out of the Army all of two weeks. Jerry, also a draftee, had been out longer. In our younger years, as both grade school and high school band members, we had marched annually in that same parade.

“One of the good things that came out of our anti-war protest was that newspaper coverage of it also gave a few current Hononegah High band members a chance to say publicly that they had not wanted to march because of their feelings about the war.”

We veterans have more power than we let on. We squeezed free education, housing loans and burial benefits out of a tightwad nation. And we Viet vets prodded the national conscience about Agent Orange and PTSD for decades. But we should be asking for the one thing we really want: no more war. Make this the last Memorial Day during wartime.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the May 25-31, 2011 issue


  1. Red Rover

    May 26, 2011 at 11:51 am

    “To know war is to know that there is still madness in this world.”
    – President Lyndon B. Johnson,
    Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union.
    January 12, 1966


  2. DanielRobertSmyth

    May 30, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Stan, you are sounding a bit Right-Winged when you talk about police actions.
    The last US. declared war was in World War II. The police actions, including Korea and Viet-Nam and the Gulf/oil wars are illegal police actions by our constitution. Even the war to save Kuwait from Saddam was a police action not authorized by congress, making it illegal! No treaty or agreement to any nation or group of nations can supersede the US Constitution! You are showing some promise there Stanley!

    Memorial Day is to remember the dead, and not the living. The first observance of Memorial Day was by freed Black men. Originally called Decoration Day, 257 black soldiers recalled memories of those fellow Union brothers at arms.

    I heard a lot of people at the parade commenting on their pride of the living veterans that were there, and my church identified the living veterans as well.
    This day is for the dead. We should not diminish the memories of those who died by giving credit to the living. The living already have a day to celebrate!

    It’s important to define the two; the dead and the living. The dead took the place of living bodies in wartime. We are to be happy for the service of the dead and to live so that their death was not in vain. I was very happy to be able to come home from the Gulf war with all of my fellow Marines and Airmen. Had I died, I would have hoped that my life would have made a difference. If my death could save two, it was a good trade!

    We owe the dead to make their death a positive move. We owe our dead to learn so that less and less will die in the future. This can be with superior firepower, and can be with superior education and tolerance.

    As America sat back and watched Hitler invade the lands of our allies and attempt to extinguish a whole race of people, we needed to have a bigger reason to fight. Our constitution said that we needed a declaration of war, and until the Pearl Harbor attacks, we had no dog in the race. With that declaration of WAR, Americans old and young alike, signed up to any service that would take them. After a while, the draft begun, and more people that could be drafted signed up like it was what they were born to do! I talked with many who were in Pearl Harbor when the hell came from the sky out of nowhere. I heard many stories about the last words of so many being that they hoped they made a difference! They all did!

    Today we abuse the spirit of our Felled and living military as we go around the globe being the policeman with some sort of implied responsibility and auhority to rid the world of terrorism and people who shout bad things at us. I would hate to be in the same room with the WWII dead if they would ever wake to find out what we have done with our duty to uphold and support the US constitution.

    This Memorial Day I am sorry that so many fine military men and women have died in foreign lands when there was no immediate threat to the USA or a declaration of war to authorize military actions.

    I Pledge Allegiance to The Flag of the United States of America and the Republic to which it stands. I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

    I support our troops that do the same! Illegal orders are not orders to be followed!

    “I was only following orders,” has been unsuccessfully used as a legal defense in hundreds of cases (probably most notably by Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II). The defense didn’t work for them, nor has it worked in hundreds of cases since.

    I Support the troops that follow Legal orders. Fighting in an illegal war is illegal! Houston we have a problem!

    I followed illegal orders in the Gulf War like everyone else. I have family that has been there since.

    As I drive past the Muslim Community Center on South Mulford Rd. each week I think about our military overseas without legal standing to be there according to the US Constitution.
    As I remember or military dead, I am so sorry that they had to die in police actions that are against the law we live by and say we support.

    This Memorial Day I hope that we all read our copy of the US Constitution. Hate me for saying it, but find out why so many presidents and government officials ignore our constitution as if it is what they are supposed to do!

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