Memorial Day

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB. Michael H. Shirley

Memorial Day these days is a bit more celebrated than it was when I was growing up during the Vietnam War era. The parades and public celebrations were held, of course, but there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm to them. But Memorial Day was still special to our family because of my grandfather’s poem. 

Ours was not a very religious family, but poetry took the place of liturgy on special occasions. Christmas was not Christmas unless we played the recording of Dylan Thomas reading his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Emily Dickenson were suitable for all occasions. Memorial Day, though, was for my grandfather, J. Allan Lind. He was a lawyer who won several important cases for Native American tribes, but more importantly to us, was a published poet, and his poem, “Memorial Day,” written at the height of the Vietnam War, was something we recited every Memorial Day, if only amongst ourselves.

When I was a child on Memorial Day
First came the veterans, old and grey
Then younger men, the in-betweens
Not too long back from the Philippines
Then came the young with guns in hand
The flag, the drums and the marching band

Now as I watch on Memorial Day
First come the veterans, old and grey
Then younger men, the in-betweens
Not too long back from the Philippines
Then come the young with guns in hand
The flag, the drums and the marching band

The only change that I can see
Is an imperceptible change in me
and fewer crowds than there used to be
There go the veterans old and grey
I remember when they marched away
When I was young and so were they

There’s much in that poem to consider, despite its simplicity: change happens; we grow; we decline; a generation ages and passes away; a new generation takes its place. But through it all, memory and memorial continues, passed down one generation to the next, in forms old and new. Sometimes the memorials are perfunctory in spirit, as they often were when I was growing up; sometimes they’re so over-the-top they seem disrespectful to the solemnity of the occasion. But Memorial Day is about coming together to remember those who’ve died in service, and to ensure that we, the living, hold them in a place of honor. It’s not about a day, or parades, or barbecues: it’s about people, and that’s something my grandfather understood. 

So if you want to use his poem, feel free. If you’d like to recite it in private or in public, go right ahead. I’ll be reciting it, too, in a family liturgy where words and people matter, in memory of all the things Memorial Day calls us to consider.

In memory of all deceased veterans, with thanks.


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves the Valley of Danville, AASR, as Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at:

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