Memorial Day or Declaration Day began after the Civil War—a war that claimed more lives than any conflict in the history of the United States—when the people of the nation wanted to honor their dead. May 30, 1868 was designated by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. “Designated for the strewing of flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” May 30 was chosen because there was no specific encounter on that day.
Countless books have been published about war—strategy, battle, valor, pain, and suffering, the devastation of the minds and bodies of those who serve. Novels, biographies, histories, poetry and yes...mysteries have all been written.
The first documented manuscript, titled The Art of War, written in 400 BC—by Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist and philosopher—advised the use of deception as an instrument of conflict. The book includes a chapter on counter-intelligence. “All war,” Sun Tzu wrote, “is based on deception.”
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell is a non-fiction account about a reconnaissance mission that took place on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Luttrell was the only survivor. His story relates the courage of the team, the enormity of the team’s loss, and their love of country during a modern war.
Shakespeare focused on war with his Henry VI Trilogy about England’s fight to preserve its jurisdiction over French territories expanded by Henry V. His plays sought to maintain the glory of English heroes and the reputation of their kingdom.
Napoleon’s victories in Western Europe threatened Russia and Russia countered by declaring war against France. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace envisioned characters who struggled to uphold their principles and compassion in the presence of death and disappointment.
Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front takes place during the First World War. Paul Baumer, a young, enthusiastic man of nineteen enlists with a number of his friends in the German army after hearing loyal, patriotic speeches by their teacher. The fighting on the French front disillusions the men who suffer wounds, trauma and fear and no longer consider war glorious and just. They have come to believe their adversaries are human beings and that war make enemies of people who have no grudge against one another.
Published in 1948 when he was twenty-five—The Naked and the Dead was Norman Mailer’s first novel—and judged one of the finest novels written about World War II. The book was based on his own experiences serving as a rifleman in the pacific. It tells about the lives of 13 soldiers stationed in the Pacific. The Armies of the Night, written about the Washington Peace March of 1967 won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.
James R. Jones enlisted in the United States Army in 1939 and served before and during World War II, first in Hawaii on Oahu, then in combat on Guadalcanal where he was wounded in action. He wrote a trilogy based on his experiences beginning with his first novel, From Here to Eternity written in 1951. The Thin Red Line followed his experiences on Guadalcanal and the source for Whistle, published posthumously was about his hospital stay.
Sand Queen by Helen Benedict is a novel that focuses on the confrontations that faced women in the military during warfare in Iraq. Benedict also penned The Lonely Soldiers a non-fiction account of women serving in that country. A woman with a small number of other women in her unit often fights isolation, and sexual harassment, PTSD—the psychological effects of war that can take a horrific toll on the life of any service man or woman—as well as the enemy.
Many books have been written by mystery writers—a large number take place before and during the Second World War and focus on spies. One best seller is Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. The book begins in 1938, when Frederick Stahl, a Viennese-born American film star is sent to Paris to make a film titled “Après la Guerre.” Stahl becomes involved in espionage—both the Nazis and the American Embassy intend to use him. Billy Boyle by James R. Benn in his World War II mysteries— is a story of a selfish, egotistical smart aleck who changes into an unenthusiastic man of courage.
“In Flanders Fields,” the most memorable poem written about war was composed by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon and poet, in 1915. Serving with the Canadian army in Ypres, attached to 1st field Army Brigade, he treated the wounded and dying during that terrible battle from hell. The fighting continued for seventeen days.
A former student and friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer killed on May 2 of 1915 was buried in a small cemetery close to McCrae’s dressing station. McCrae performed the funeral ceremony. He could see Helmer’s grave and the wild poppies that grew in ditches in that part of Europe and began to deal with his grief by composing a poem that he later discarded. A fellow officer found it and sent it to newspapers in England. Punch published the poem on December 8, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The lark, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
The National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed in December 2000. The resolution asks citizens to observe a moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time in memory of those who gave their lives.
May they rest in peace.