What has happened to our holidays?
Can anybody name the date of Washington or Lincoln's births?
Of course not.
We do know we celebrate a wacky hybrid known as Presidents Day on the third Monday of February each year, but the reasoning behind that is to guarantee another three-day weekend for federal employees (as dictated by the Uniform Holidays Act of 1968). Veterans Day, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, etc. All moved around like Scrabble pieces. School kids and government workers love it. But what happened to the core meaning of these observances?
Oh, and for the record George Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732, and Abe Lincoln on Feb. 12, 1809. As you can see, it is now mathematically impossible to celebrate our Founding Father's birth on his actual birthday. As I said, wacky.
Set aside the holidays we celebrate with "Honest Abe" mattress sales or Columbus Day discovery bargains and you see that holidays just seem to come and go in a vanilla wash of commercialism. Religious holidays are no different, either.
But the holidays that to me remain most sacred are the ones elevated to honor our military. Of these, Memorial Day tugs most persistently at our heartstrings.
Memorial Day is that venerable salute snap we give to our very existence. It started in Waterloo. But don't go looking for a big Memorial Day commemoration on the last Monday of May there. No sir. The good people of Waterloo do it the old-fashioned way, on May 30, regardless of the day of the week it falls on (take that, Uniform Holidays Act of 1968!).
Memorial Day pays tribute to those who gave their lives in service to their nation. It started as Decoration Day, a day to adorn the graves of fallen soldiers. Today, more than ever, it is totally appropriate that we pause and reflect on the millions of identical white markers standing as mute sentinels in our nation's cemeteries.
I was in Arlington Cemetery two weeks ago. It is a place that speaks to you. In silence, yes, but as loud as a clarion bell also. Of the sanctity of life. And the foolishness of war. Of bravery and courage and country.
Once the "ad men" in the War Department got a hold of it, the fog of war that covered the human side of combat became thick and formidable. World War I was the "War to End All Wars." It wasn't. World War II gave us (years later) the phrase "The Greatest Generation." True, no arguments there. Korea, "The Coldest War," remains one of the most unknown, quiet-toned and nasty conflicts in American history.
We have heard of "the light at the end of the tunnel," "shock and awe," "the surge," "peace in our time," etc. And yet our military engagements around the world continue.
The Vietnam War was my generation's war. While in our nation's capital two weeks ago I paid a midnight visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as The Wall.
There, in the still of a clear, cold, starless night, my wife and kids and I slowly paced the mirror-like black slabs etched with 58,000 names of American men and women who died in Vietnam. It is impossible not to be moved by it.
Closer to home, I would like to offer a tiny travel tidbit to you this Memorial Day. Take a trip to little Sidney Center in Delaware County. When there, seek out the old hillside train station called Maywood. It is also the home of the local historical society.
The train depot (nonoperating) has been fully restored to its historic grandeur. In days gone by trains from the O&W Railroad would rattle above town here on the region's highest train trestle. Maywood Station tells this community's history beautifully.
But go into the back. Near the old baggage room. And take a look at our area's own Vietnam Wall.
Here displayed for future generations to read are the stories of what I call "The Seven Sons." Seven Delaware County area boys who went to Vietnam in 1968 and never came back. I knew four of them. They were all "in country" less than a year. They were killed within 58 days of each other. Their flags are on the wall. The national press clippings that told of "the highest percentage of deaths from such a small, rural community (population 500) in America" are on the wall. Condolence letters from Vice President Hubert Humphrey to the Sidney Center families who were rocked with grief. The Oneonta Star news coverage. It's all there at the Maywood Station.
Take a trip. Pay a visit. And read about Bob, "Giff," Gary, "Butch," Larry, Ron and Gerry. Their names are on a wall in Washington and on a wall in Sidney Center.
We honor you and all of your brothers and sisters in uniform.
I'll catch you in two ...
'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.
What has happened to our holidays?
- Big Chuck
Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old
I asked Cam Morris, head of Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines, how many years her company has been handling the Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C.
My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
Ask any hospital administrators if they've ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, "Impossible." In a half century of going through records you can't find any.
Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
We just came back from a weekend in Manchester, Vt., and my wife insists that something "magical" happens when you pass the state sign. "I think they spray 'Vermont Vapor' out of the sign or something," she opined, "something that actually changes us."
Selections from the virtual mailbag
Well, it's time to open up the email bag, and it's really full!
Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
In 1969, I was "The Doughnut King" in Sidney.
- Monday, March 11, 2013
Opera great's visit still a thrilling memory
Opera singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) has been called the "most distinctive American voice of the 20th century."
- Monday, February 25, 2013
Film clip a window into Oneonta's past
One of my radio listeners sent me an astonishing piece of video recently. I posted it on my Facebook page (go to Facebook, search "BIG CHUCK") and it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people in just a week.
- Monday, February 11, 2013
Many made stop at upstate naval base
My father was in the U.S. Navy. Not for long, but he did enlist out of high school in 1944. He did his naval training at Sampson Naval Training Base in Romulus. Shortly after Dad's basic training, he was honorably discharged because of a health issue. So, although his service was brief, I needed to find out as much about it as I possibly could.
- Monday, January 28, 2013
Local foods worthy of national spotlight
Well, President Obamaâ€™s second inauguration is over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
- Monday, January 14, 2013
Remembering lives of the not-so-famous
I write about 25 columns a year for this paper. And I must admit, this annual one is always my favorite. A lot of famous people left this world last year, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Andy Williams and TV's George Jefferson actor -- Sherman Hemsley.
- Monday, December 31, 2012
Canines create unforgettable moments
Last year, I used my holiday column to pay tribute to my dog, Stella. The darn dog actually received fan mail after that, and has insisted that I do a shout-out to her canine colleagues each year around this time. So, to keep Stella happy, here goes.
- Monday, December 17, 2012
Nothing like an old-fashioned movie theater
What is it about a movie theater?
- Monday, December 3, 2012
Chuck's daughter returns to a town full of memories
My daughter Frances, OHS Class of 2000, came home for Thanksgiving last week after not having been in her hometown for nearly five years. I asked her to be my "guest columnist" to share her thoughts about coming home for the holidays. I hope you enjoy her story.
- Monday, November 19, 2012
Time to move on after grueling campaign season
Nobody likes a presidential election campaign better than I do. But this one darn near took a piece out of me.
- Monday, November 5, 2012
One nasty hurricane more than enough for one lifetime
Hey, Sandy! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
- Monday, October 22, 2012
Latter-day stunt men still knew how to thrill
What is it with all these crazy stuntmen all of a sudden?
- Monday, October 8, 2012
Andy Williams, last of the great crooners
When singer Andy Williams died a week ago, it truly was an end of an era.
- Monday, September 24, 2012
Senator's farm was all I imagined
Many years ago, when I first arrived in Oneonta, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the senior senator from New York state. His top aide, Ross Frommer, used to come into the radio station for interviews and to tell my audience about the various legislative efforts involving "their senator."
- Monday, September 10, 2012
Family's history includes ancestor who knew Lincoln
- Monday, August 27, 2012
Making up for lost time on Facebook
If there ever was a true-blue phenomenon, it is Facebook.
- Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old