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by William H. Benson

May 27, 2010


     “Precious Memories, how they linger,” sings the Gospel singer.

     Ralph Waldo Emerson, born on May 25, in 1803, hinted at those “lingering” memories, seemingly jointly held: “There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same.”

     On May 26, in 1940, fishing boats and recreational boats rescued the Allied troops pinned down at Dunkirk and facing a sheer annihilation by the Nazi troops. On the same day, but in 1994, the United States and Vietnam resumed relations after nineteen years of an uneasy truce. James Arness, aka Marshall Matt Dillon of “Gunsmoke,” turns 87 today, and turning 62 is Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, who was constantly telling us to “Go Your Own Way,” or “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” because it’ll soon be here.

     Both Hubert Humphrey, LBJ’s Vice-President, and Vincent Price, the man with the haunting macabre voice, were born on the same day, May 27, 1911, and both are now deceased. Henry Kissinger too was born on the 27th, but a dozen years after Humphrey and Price, and he, like James Arness, will celebrate his 87th birthday.

     James Bond’s creator, the writer Ian Fleming, would have turned 102, on May 28, if he had not died at the premature age of 56.

     On May 29, 1865, in the grandest display of a redemptive act in our nation’s history, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation that granted a general amnesty to all those Confederates who had participated in the rebellion. On the same day, but in 1917, John F. Kennedy was born, which means he would have turned 93 this day, except that an assassin ended his life at 46 ½: too young, much too young. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay stood on the summit of Mount Everest on the same day, May 29th, but in 1953, and Bob Hope, who saw his 100th birthday on this day in 2003, and then died two months later, would be 107.

     On May 30, in 1943, the Battle of the Aleutian Islands ended after three weeks of fighting that was marked by savage and bitter fighting: 552 Americans were killed, and 2352 Japanese soldiers, plus some 500 others who preferred suicide to surrender. The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on this day in 1922, and in 2002, at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center, in a solemn and silent ceremony, the recovery and cleanup ended. Gale Sayers, the Chicago Bears running back, turns 67 this day.

     Some 2300 people drowned on May 31, 1889, after a dam on a river broke, causing a flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Clint Eastwood, aka Rowdy Yates and Dirty Harry, who coined the moniker, “Go ahead, make my day,” turns 80 this day. “Broadway” Joe Namuth also turns 67, and Brooke Shields turns 45. Walt Whitman would be 191 years old this day, and in his Leaves of Grass, he pondered about human life.

     “As the time draws night glooming a cloud, a dread beyond of I know not what darkens me. I shall go forth, I shall traverse the States awhile, but I cannot tell whither or how long. Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my voice will suddenly cease. O book, O chants! Must all then amount to but this? Must we barely arrive at this beginning of us?—and yet it is enough, O soul: O soul, we have positively appear’d—that is enough.”

     Elvis Presley sang of remembrances of things past: “Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind. Memories, sweetened through the ages, just like wine.”

     Memories can be precious and sweet, tasting perhaps of wine, like those of an outstanding achievement—ascending a mountain or marking a number of birthdays, but not necessarily all of them. Some memories are of arguments and bitter disagreements and are of fighting, wars, killing, and of lives tragically cut short. Those ugly memories we remember better than the pleasant ones, but, instead of sweet, they taste sour, and are better left unspoken, but they cannot be unremembered.

     And so it is every year on Memorial Day, a day we reflect upon our memories of loved ones passed on, of people we know and have known, and of events that continue to astound us still. Forgetting the bad and relishing the good, you, my dear reader, can enjoy each hour of your precious Memorial Day.