May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

by Dennis Caraher

High school band. Memorial Day.
Country cemetery. Marched all the way.
We stood in formation, took off our caps.
Stood with the nation, we played taps

Year before Kennedy, year before King.
Last year I cared about anything.
But for that moment, we were one.
Honoring soldiers

At Arlington.

Notes drifted across the plains.
Swallows signaled oncoming rain.
Station wagons, pickup trucks
Rescued us then turned to rust

We put on new uniforms
Crisp, creased. Tattered, well-worn
Some forget where we come from
Some come to rest

In Arlington

When he was twelve, took my only son
Lost ourselves in the Smithsonian
Then Abraham, above the Mall.
Then raised our hands, touched the wall.

Headstone horizon, eternal flame
Unknown lie with familiar names
Sacrificed daughters and sons
So I could cry

At Arlington.

"Memorial Day" by Dennis Caraher. Reprinted with permission of the author

Today is Memorial Day, a day to honor American soldiers who have died in military service. No one is exactly sure when and where the first Memorial Day celebration took place — there are about 25 towns and cities that claim to have held the first celebration — but it evolved after the Civil War, when people put aside a day to honor fallen Union soldiers. After World War I, it became a day to honor soldiers who had died in any conflict. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday on the last Monday each May.

The National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest in the country. The parade starts at two o'clock, and it will feature veterans, military people on active duty, marching bands, and floats, as well as the actors Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, and Hugh O'Brian. The "honored guest" is Edith Shain, the woman in the famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day, 1945.

The Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade in Queens, New York, claims to be the largest in the country. This year will be the 83rd annual parade. The longest-running annual Memorial Day Parade is in Portsmouth, Virginia, and this year the 126th annual parade will begin at 11 a.m.

It's the birthday of Walt Whitman, (books by this author) born in the village of West Hills on Long Island (1819). Walt was the second of nine children born to the Whitmans, one of whom died as a baby. The Whitmans lived on Long Island for a few years, while his father, an out-of-work carpenter, tried farming for a while. But when Walt was four, his father moved their family to Brooklyn, an up-and-coming city. They moved around constantly and never had much money. For six years Walt went to the Brooklyn public school.

Brooklyn was rapidly changing during the period when the Whitmans moved there. Between 1800 and 1820, the population tripled, and it doubled again in the 1820s, and by 1945 was almost 80,000. Brooklyn had factories, gas lights along the streets, a city hall, and a real commercial center.

Many people who lived in Brooklyn commuted to work in New York City by ferry, and young Walt loved to make the crossing and visit museums, go to lectures, and watch people. He left school for good when he was 11 and went to work as a printer's apprentice for the Long Island Patriot and other papers, and over the years he moved back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Eventually, he wrote a poem about it, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry."

It was on this day in 1790 that Congress enacted the United States copyright law. The law gave authors exclusive rights to publish and sell maps, charts, and books for a period of 14 years, with a chance to renew the copyright for another 14 years. Noah Webster was one of the first Americans to argue for copyright law, after he realized that he was missing out on profits because people were selling pirated editions of his dictionary Grammatical Institute of the English Language (1783).

There have been many changes to the U.S. copyright law since 1790. In the 19th century, copyrights became available for photographs, paintings, drawings, and models. In 1909, musical rolls for player pianos became covered by the law. In the last 30 years, copyright law has expanded to include cable TV, computer software, tapes, CDs, DVDs, and MP3s.

Copyright terms have also gradually gotten longer. Up until 1998, copyrights lasted for the life of the author plus an additional 50 years before they went into the public domain. But in that year, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extended the duration of copyrights by 20 years

It was on this day in 1669 that Samuel Pepys (books by this author) wrote in his diary for the last time after keeping it regularly for 10 years. Pepys ended the diary because he thought he was going blind. Pepys's eyesight got better after a few months, and he lived another 33 years, but he never wrote in his diary again.

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