A Day to Remember

by Tom Zahn - 2021-05-31

Memorial Day is the day we take a moment, interrupt our routine, to honor those who have served in wars, and to recall those who fell in battle. This is the stream of thought that took me, as I walked the path to White Mountain (Bílá Hora). One of the most defining battles in Czech history. Mourned by the vanquished and celebrated by the victors. Today, a memorial stands alone in a field of barley and rye, peacefully at rest, as a busy world, perpetually in motion, passes all about.


Ironically, the day had been planned differently. I set out to walk with someone through another park. As I learned that I would be on my own, it dawned on me that it was Memorial Day in the US, and it so happened that I was also on the path that led to Bílá Hora. I took the opportunity to turn this day to one of remembering.


As I walked the narrow tree lined path, with the occasional chapel and info board, I thought of the comparisons between nations and generations. I wondered if the sacrifice that my father and uncles made was unlike so many others before them. It never entered my mind that their cause was not righteous. I did not question the premise that the most noble of all are those who fall in battle. But the thought did occur to me that every battle has two sides (or more).

Here I stood, on Bělohorská ulice, a busy artery into Prague, named after the battle that happened in this place on Nov 8, 1620. Side by side, across the street, were two imposing symbols to recall the same historic event. The first, a rundown pub (Hostinec) advertising billiards, sauna and massage. The second, an ornate baroque shrine to Our Lady of Victory. The contrast was not lost on me, a foreigner in this land long on history. Which side to stand on? How do I understand this decisive moment? As defeat or victory?

My steps continued. My thoughts turned from one side to another, trying to pick a side, who to memorialize. How to pay my respect to those heroes and victims who fell in this place?  At a solitary stone mound, beside a tree in the middle of a field, I came upon an obelisk inscribed in Czech “To the Fallen Warriors”. It was placed here by a Sokol lodge in 1920, on the 300 year anniversary of the battle .

The Sokol movement was founded to encourage physical fitness, scholarship and patriotism, in the 19th century, at a time when Czech spirits were flagging under the yoke of Habsburg rule. Only after WWI, with the liberation of the Czech Lands, was it possible to memorialize those who had fallen on the losing side of the Battle of White Mountain. Today it seems almost forgotten.

So what conclusion did I reach? And is it enough, to think of other fallen soldiers, besides my own? I am sure that this is not a conclusion. Sadly, we do not appear to be done fighting. So many more to be sacrificed. So many wounds to be healed. So many soldiers to fall before an end is declared, and we finally win, once and for all.

It is a fool’s dream, what comes from luxury of time to walk in thought, that there will ever be an end to this long parade of conflict and war. Still, I walk in prayer for all the fallen, that we may not forget the hell they went through just because it’s a sunny day.