Today is Memorial Day and I want to honor my father-in-law, Don Bosworth. Don is a World War II veteran and was a prisoner of war in Germany. He lives in assisted living and has been pretty sad since his wife Jean, my beloved mother-in-law, died in 2005.
Back in the 1970’s Don and Jean bought a small cottage in a very beautiful spot – Cape Porpoise harbor, part of Kennebunkport, Maine, a town most known as the summer residence of George H. W. Bush. Kennebunkport is still a small town and they still put on a Memorial Day parade. It starts in Dock Square, the center of town – I remember one year when President Bush attended – and then the participants drive a few miles over to Cape Porpoise Square and the parade is repeated.
Most years on Memorial Day my wife and I would be in Maine, where we are today, and would walk down the street to Cape Porpoise Square to see the parade. More important than the middle school band and the baton twirlers and fire engines, a small group of increasingly aging, mostly male, veterans march a short distance in formation.
I came of age during the Vietnam War and never served myself. Most of the conflicts in my lifetime have not been popular. But I always feel it is important to be at the parade and to honor not only the veterans, but also those who currently serve in our armed forces. In large part it’s because of my father-in-law’s sacrifices during the war.
Despite all of its problems and shortcomings, we live in a great country. There may be uncertainties about more recent conflicts, but those who serve made and make it possible for all of us to enjoy our many freedoms – including religious freedom.
For many years I would get upset at the Memorial Day parade because there was always an invocation and benediction and invariably the priest or minister would conclude his or her prayer “in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” There were so many times I wanted to write down the clergy person’s name and write to him or her and point out that not everyone in attendance was Christian – but I never did. Finally a few years ago the references to Jesus ended.
A couple of years ago the State of Maine created a small Prisoner of War museum and invited all of the living ex-POW’s to attend the opening ceremony. My father-in-law is extremely modest and unassuming and didn’t want to be honored, but we persuaded him to go. It was a moving sight to see the 15 or so mostly WWII vets there, most using walkers. The chaplain who gave the invocation prayed in the name of Jesus, which for some reason upset me much more than usual. When the ceremony ended I went up to him and said with some vehemence that my father-in-law wasn’t a prisoner of war so that he could pray in a public ceremony in the name of Jesus – he was a prisoner of war so we would all have freedom to pray as we choose and without public favoring of any one religion over another. The poor chaplain was visibly taken aback – he actually said that some of his best chaplain colleagues were rabbis – but I’m pretty sure he got the point.
It’s because of the freedoms and pluralism and tolerance of America that Jews are no longer restricted to themselves and we have the challenge and great opportunity that interfaith marriage presents to the future of Jewish life. I’m pretty sure that my father-in-law wasn’t thinking during his army days that his service would contribute to the conditions where I could become his son-in-law. But I’m very glad it did, and I want to be sure to honor him today.