The stories of war are rarely happy ones, and not easily told. Take Max Voelz. He and his wife Kim served together in the same Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit in Iraq (think Hurt Locker). One night Max sent his wife out on a mission to disarm a bomb. She didn't make it back alive.
Then there's NPR's own Doualy Xaykaothao, who finally summoned the courage to tell the story of her own family's involvement in the Vietnam War. Her great uncle, Gen. Vang Pao, was not only a military hero in Laos, but also a hero of the Hmong community in the U.S. He died earlier this year and 40,000 mourners crowded into downtown Fresno, Calif. to pay respects. Her relatives are wary of talking about the war.
In my own family, my uncle Bob didn't say much about war either. It wasn't until shortly before he died 2 years ago that he told anyone what he actually did in the Korean War. His dangerous job as a medical helicopter pilot (think of the incoming choppers in M*A*S*H) was kept secret because he didn't want his parents to worry about him.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began as a solemn event to remember those who served and died in the military, specifically the Civil War. And if there's one piece of music associated with the death of a soldier, it's taps, that lonely melody played by a single bugler at military funerals. It, too, originated with the Civil War.
Taps is somehow mournful and comforting at the same time. More than the other arts, music has that power — to bring back memories, to assuage heartache and bring release.
For this Memorial Day, we'd like to know what music works for you. Do you have favorite pieces that help tell the story of lost loved ones, ease the pain or lift the spirits? Tell us your suggestions in the comments section.
One of my favorites is the final aria from Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, especially when sung by Jessye Norman.