This year, I’ve driven back-and-forth across much of the United States multiple times. Resulting in at least 6000 miles of travel, and several weeks of being on the road.
As a fan of Blue Highways, stopping in small-town America is always a highlight. (Although not always a respite when in Trump-y areas, such as Deadwood and all of Oklahoma.)
One consistent attribute of many small towns is what I’ve come to call “Dead Soldier Square.” It’s remarkable how many places have memorials to residents who have died in recent military service. Occasionally, it’s an old-school statue, but more often the memorial consists of photos of the dead on streetlight poles, or otherwise distributed along Main Street. Every so often, the placards are placed in the windows of empty storefronts, which makes them even more haunting and evocative by combining two forms of civic loss.
The photos of dead youth haunt your every step. The intention is probably to remind the living of their sacrifice, but I suspect the actual result is numbing and normalization.
It’s especially poignant knowing that for at least some of these young people, joining the military was the only viable means of escape from the town. And now, in death, the town is the only place where they are remembered.