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Guns and Religion in a Small Town on Memorial Day

An anti-war vet in Trumpland

      When the legend becomes fact, print the legend
                  - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I attended a "Salute to Veterans" this past Memorial Day in Waldoboro, Maine, organized by the town’s Historical Society at the headquarters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and co-sponsored by the American Legion. For someone with my antiwar resume, albeit a veteran of a Vietnam combat unit, stepping over the threshold of a VFW Post can feel like crossing into hostile territory. I might exhibit a similar compunction about taking fermentation at certain blue color taverns in the Rust Belt, despite the fact that many of the regulars would pretty much look like me, white seniors with European roots – except maybe they voted for Trump and I didn’t. It’s not just politics; it’s a class thing. I spent my first eleven years in a working class subdivision while my dad, employed at a defense plant, “broke through the line” into management. We moved up and I went to college, then left my hometown in the dust.

The POW/MIA guest setting; and attendees at the Memorial Day event (Photos: Michael Uhl)The POW/MIA guest setting; and attendees at the Memorial Day event (Photos: Michael Uhl)

Most of those I sat among that afternoon in Waldoboro probably hadn’t been to college – an opportunity with far reaching class consequences - but they’d remained rooted in their communities. Being there, it was as if I’d been whisked back to some mothballed version of where I’d grown up in the fifties. All the musty forms and rituals were intact. The interior of the hall was a shrine to soldierly service. All manner of war and military memorabilia displayed on walls and tables. Mannequins outfitted full fig in uniforms of various epochs. Two rows of chairs faced the stars and stripes and the flags of all the services that stood tall across the front of the room. Stage-set on the left flank was an empty table with a single place setting and chair, the ubiquitous homage of the mainstream veteran service organizations to the MIAs.

One elderly lady saddled in beside me and sparkled brightly, “don’t worry, I won’t bite you.” Was she in the Ladies Auxiliary linked to one of the co-sponsors, I asked? She nodded yes without comment. The chair of the local Historical Society stepped to the podium, asked the body to stand, then summoned the Color Guard, having carried two flags to the rear, to proceed forward and return the standards to their stanchions. Two of the more senior men, costumed with bits and pieces of their old uniforms – both wore sergeant’s stripes – fairly dragged the heavy poles up the aisle. “It weighs a ton,” one of them grumbled under his breath, but loud enough to make his audience, including me, smile and nod in sympathy.



story | by Dr. Radut