Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Town of Lee, MA and Memorial Day

The central Berkshire County town of Lee, MA calls itself "The Gateway to the  Berkshires". That's indisputable as Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike is right there. If you are traveling in I 90 west from Boston or east from New York State and Albany you will get off the Pike in Lee for your travels south to Stockbridge, Great Barrington or Sheffield you will use Exit 2.  If you are going north to Lenox, Pittsfield or Williamstown you will use Exit 2.

The story is that the original design for the Mass Pike has it taking a more northerly route with an exit near the industrial City of Pittsfield.  But a powerful south Berkshire County State Senator prevailed so that the Pike took its present route with the exit in Lee.

It's a mixed blessing. Easy access on and off the Pike is a plus. But Lee also bears a cost. All the traffic from north County has to go through the heart of Lee using the two lanes Main and Housatonic Streets. In "the season" all these streets are clogged with all manner of vehicle: trucks, 'buses, R.Vs and cars with the consequent noise and air pollution.

I was dreaming about Lee the other night (as one does!).  I cannot remember the dream, but as I was emerging from sleep I began to imagine Main St  Lee in 1917.  I saw a parade of newly enlisted doughboys as they prepared to go off to Camp and thence to France to fight in "the war to end all wears" in what was then called "The Great War".

Then I thought of Lee  (and so many other small American towns) two years later, a Lee which had all too many widows, orphans and bereft parents.

The Great War was brutal,  Contemporary accounts speak of young men (cannon fodder) writhing and dying in agony as they cried out for their mothers.

"War is Hell" said Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Only unthinking romantics, filmmakers novelists, corrupt politicians,  and those who have never served in battle would say otherwise.

"War is hell" says the widows, the orphans, and the bereft parents.

Which brings me to Memorial Day.  It is not designed to honour Veterans - they have their own day. It is not designed to honour those who currently serve -  we have Armed Forces Day for that.  It does not mark the beginning of barbecue season in northern States.  It is not (as an NPR reporter said) "the holiday weekend".

It should be a day for solemn marches with muffled drums, for dirges, for mourning.  It should be a day on which we honour the memory of those who died, and share the tears of those whose grief is unquenchable; a day for fasting and requiems.


Note some of what I write is rooted in my visits to French, American, British and German War Graveyards in Europe. I particularly remember three graveyards near the town of Soissons in France - a place for some of the most brutal fighting in World War I. Many of the graves in the French Cemetery were of  Algerian Muslims, fighting for Mother France.

And of my visit to the infamous Viet Cong tunnels in Vietnam into which young G.I's were made to crawl on their bellies in an attempt to root out the enemy, but to their almost certain deaths (the Tunnel Rats), The place made me shudder. War is hell.


World War I Memorial, Franklin St, Lee MA

Memorial Day Cake at Publix. This made my blood boil -   talk about trivialising  a solemn day. I wanted to call Publix Corporate and remind them "this is Memorial Day, not friggin' Valentine's Day".

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