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Every Day Is Memorial Day

Andy Rooney Remembers Some Heroic Old Buddies

A Memorial Day commentary by CBS News Correspondent Andy Rooney:

It's Memorial Day, the day we set aside to pay loving or at least respectful tribute to the solders, sailors and fliers who died fighting our wars.

We have dotted our public places with stone structures well meant to revive our memory of them. The artifacts of war are permanent features in town squares everywhere.

There's hardly a city so large or village so small that it does not have a cannon, a plaque or a monolithic monument in their honor.

Our war dead are buried in impeccably kept cemeteries: each marker above, the same; each boy beneath, so different.

I am ambivalent about memorials and days honoring ourselves or others. For a great many Americans, Memorial Day is just another Monday when they don't have to go to work. They don't know anyone who died at war and so have no one to honor by remembering.

I have. Anyone my age had friends who were killed in World War II. I have, for instance, dear, sweet Obie Slingerland. We were co-captains of our high school football team and as close off the field as on. Obie was a Navy pilot who died coming in for a landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier, Saratoga. One bomb was hung up in the bay, unbeknownst to Obie, and exploded on impact.

If they built a memorial of marble a thousand feet tall, it wouldn't match my memory or strengthen my affection for him. And they wouldn't because Obie was one of 292,131 Americans who died in WWII - each someone's dear friend.

We need special days - to set them aside from the blur of days that go by unnoticed. We need to make an effort to recall a birthday, an anniversary, a great occasion in the history of our country. But special days like Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, Valentines' Day, Labor Day, are not much more satisfactory than piles of stone.

Mothers' Day was this month. I looked at the Mothers' Day cards in a store window and thought how inadequate and ordinary they were compared with the extraordinary thoughts that so often come to me of my mother. I don't need a day to remember her.

I don't need a day to remember Obie. Or Bob O' Connor, or Charley Wood, Bob Taft, Bede Irwin, and not my friend Ernie Pyle.

There has been a great renewal of interest in WWII. It's difficult to know whether Tom Brokaw started it with his good book "The Greatest Generation" or whether he got in on it.

The idea of our generation being exceptional is flattering for me and my contemporaries. But on Memorial Day, I think I'll spend a few quiet moments just remembering my friends who died - and perhaps even my mother - even though it isn't Mothers' Day.

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