Memorial Day memories

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(Host) This Memorial Day, commentator Linda DuCharme is thinking of lilacs, little flags and another war.

(DuCharme) The scent of lilacs always brings it back. Never does a Memorial Day go by that I am not, for a moment, returned to my childhood in Stowe during the early ’40s. The raging War was the center of our lives at every turn.

We walked to school each day, carefully stepping on every crack to “break Hitler’s back,” and we sang patriotic songs as we flew on the chain swings at the play yard. My favorite was “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer.”

At school we pasted little 10-cent stamps into booklets that would eventually be turned in toward war bonds. We collected everything: scrap metal, newspapers, bacon fat. We scraped foil off gum wrappers and added it to a ball that would eventually be used to make airplanes.

My mother was a “spotter”. For several hours every week she sat at a card table on top of Shaw’s Store and scanned the skies for enemy aircraft. She had little cards with black silhouettes of planes on them. If she saw a German Messerschmidt or Japanese Zero, she was to call someone. My brother and I would bring her sandwiches and a thermos of milk as an excuse to hang out. We all looked skyward till we had cricks in our necks, and strained our ears for the drone of an engine that never came

In the center of town was the honor roll, a white board with the names of local servicemen painted in thick black letters. My father’s name was there. If a gold star was next to a name, that person had been killed in action and a silver star indicated missing. My best friend’s brother was missing.

I used to think that that was how you were informed about the casualties. With dread we second graders checked the honor roll daily on the way to and from school. I feared I would have to tell my mother the awful news if a star showed up next to the name of David Case.

It is no wonder that Memorial Day was so very important to us.

On that day little girls wore white dresses, and carried tiny flags and armloads of lilacs in the parade that went through town, down Maple Street, past my house where my mother stood waving from the porch, and ended up at the cemetery.

The high school band, uniformless, played only one tune, “The Old Gray Mare She ain’t What She used to be.” The tempo varied from sprightly through town to a proper dirge at the cemetery

We sang patriotic songs as a wreath was tossed from a bridge into the Lamoille River in honor of those in the Navy. At the cemetery, under a canopy of giant elms, guns fired in salute to the Army and Marines. Our lilacs, a bit droopy by then, were placed on the graves along with the little American flags and the band played its mournful tune.

My father eventually came home, but my friend’s brother never did.

This is Linda DuCharme of Brookline.

Linda Ducharme is a retired assistant managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer. She spoke from our studio in Norwich. Music accompanying the commentary was performed by Bob Merrill.

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