BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro Union High School social studies teacher Bill Holiday delivered a history lesson, and a critique of American foreign policy over the past century, in his remarks at the annual Memorial Day service on the Common on Monday.
Holiday has taught at BUHS for 41 years, and has been involved with the American Legion Post 5 Oratorical Contest for many years. He said his brother-in-law had asked him why he was delivering a keynote speech at a Memorial Day service, since he was not a veteran.
“He had a point, but, who better than any ordinary common citizen to stand up in front of you great veterans of this country and say, ‘thank you, from all of us common ordinary citizens who could not be here. I could not be here and saying what I’m saying here today were it not for the sacrifices you have made.’”
Holiday guided his audience through the nation’s wars from Lexington and Concord to Iraq and Afghanistan.
While he urged everyone to remember those who died in the wars in the first century of our nation’s existence, Holiday particularly emphasized the wars of the 20th century, and the transformation of the American character that came as a result.
He quoted President Woodrow Wilson, who said on the nation’s entry into World War I, “It would be a fearful thing to lead this country into war because it might take generations, even centuries, to weed that kind of aggression out of the very psyche of the American people.”
“[Wilson] was right,” said Holiday. “He also warned if we didn’t get a fair peace, if everyone was after a piece of Germany at the end of this war, then we are doing nothing except raising another generation of young men to send off to war.”
Only 20 years elapsed between the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, and Hitler’s invasion of Poland that launched World War II.
“Precisely the time to raise another generation of soldiers,” said Holiday. “There was no ‘war to end all wars.’ We had Armistice Day [Nov. 11, the day that marked the end of World War I in 1918] because we thought it was, and changed it to Veterans’ Day. And there have been many wars since.”
Author Studs Turkel called World War II “The Good War,” Holiday said, because “it had clearly defined political and military objectives.”
Since that war, there hasn’t been a military conflict that has been as clear-cut and unambiguous.
“Maybe it’s too difficult, too dangerous, to mobilize this entire body of people we call Americans in the Nuclear Age,” Holiday said.
At the start of Monday’s service, American Legion Post 5 Commander Richard Guthrie took time to remember two departed veterans — Roger Aquadro of Dummerston, a member of the color guard of Brattleboro Detachment 798 of the Marine Corps League, who died during last year’s Memorial Day ceremonies at St. Michael’s Parish Cemetery, and Louis LaBreck Jr. of Guilford, a longtime member of the American Legion Post 5/VFW Post 1034 Joint Memorial Unit who died last Thursday.
Jim Plante, first vice-commander of Post 5, suggested that Memorial Day ought to be called “Thanksgiving Day,” for the gratitude the living offer to those who have died in service to their nation.
“More than a day to decorate the graves of our honored dead, Memorial Day is a reaffirmation of faith,” Plante said. “Faith in the Creator, who intended for all people to be free. Faith that those who fight for freedom will prevail over those who fight for tyranny.”