So passes another Memorial Day, and not a word spoken in honor of those who truly have suffered for the success of the American way.

I speak, of course, of water skiers.

Water skiers' miseries knows no bounds. They dedicate years and large sums of money to learning, only to find one bitter truth in the end.

Water skiing isn't any fun at all.

Forget those pictures you've seen on the backs of magazines with some grinning, toothy muscleman practically parallel to the water, his single slalom ski raising a cascade of water.

Forget those times you've sat on the shore feeling frumpy and dowdy while a trio of beautiful people turned circles of delight out in the bay.

Those whoops and hollers you heard? Just a front. These folks spent so much money and time preparing themselves for water skiing that when they finally got adequate they had to go. And by golly, they were going to let the world think they were having fun, even if they knew it was just a great big waste of time.

They sure fooled me.

As a boy, nothing I ever saw or tried appealed to me even half as much as water skiing.

It was uncommon then, restricted to those who could afford inboard speedboats since outboards lacked the power to pull skiers.

But every year outboards got bigger.

One day when I was 11 an acquaintance named Donald Frederick Buckingham Gaddisdon Horn Jr. (we called him Bucky) said his father had resurrected a busted 11-horsepower Evinrude.

"He took me water skiing behind it," said Bucky.

The next day I stopped by Bucky's a few minutees before dawn to see if he was going water skiing that day.

When it got light enough we went down to the dock and he showed me how it worked. The Evinrude had one gear -- forward.

"When i'm ready i'll put my hand up," Bucky said. "You put the throttle on fast and pull the starter cord."

He drifted out behind the boat with his water skis on and I threw him the line. When he put his hand up I started yanking the starter, and on the 316th pull the crude Evinrude sputtered, clanged and came slowly to life.

As it did so, it pulled Bucky along behind at a slowly increasing rate of speed. Among the things it is impossible to do on water skis is go slowly, but Bucky held on in an angry crouch till the motor caught hold.

Suddenly he was up. I was driving a boat towing a water skier, which was half my childhood dream. In my delirium I began waving and cheering at Bucky, who waved back with a worried look about two seconds before I drove the boat hard on a sand bar and watched Bucky sink slowly back into the sea.

Bucky and the Evinrude and I had an on-again, off-again thing that summer. The motor only ran occasionally, and usually not for long. Even at its best it took about five grueling minutes to get me "up," as I outweighed Bucky by 10 pounds and it was barely adequate for him.

But there were a couple of occasions when the motor ran right and I was up and sweeping along in the bubbling wake for minutes on end.

I'm sure that during one of those happy occasions the first cloud of doubt swept by and my innocent mind managed to turn to the final, brutal question about water skiing.

So what?

That's the one no one has yet been able to answer.

Later in my youth I spent two summers at a job which in part involved running a ski boat for some rich people and helping their kids learn water skiing.

This boat was the real thing -- a 16-footer with a V8 engine and power to burn. When the skier said go he'd better be ready or it would pull his arms out of their sockets.

A boat like that reaches you very quickly the limitations of water skiing as a sport.

First you ski on two skis and then, bored, you ski on one ski.

When that bores you you get a pair of flat "trick skis" and learn how to turn around on water skis, and ski backwards, and ski on one ski while towing yourself by your foot, and then backwards on one ski while towing yourself by your foot.

When that gets boring you go over jumps which are constructed at a cost of thousands in the middle of the bay, and which are sure to result in someone's death before they are mercifully dismantled.

And when that gets boring you buy "shoe skis" -- boards two feet long that keep you afloat only at ridiculous high rates of speed. After that comes barefoot skiing, which is as far as you can go.

So the highest pinnacle of water skiing is when you can throw your water skis away, and not go skiing at all.

The truth is that water skiing does nothing for you physically except to build one muscle in the forearm, the result of the death grip required to hang on.

Water skiers call this the popeye muscle and wander through life staring at peoples' forearms, looking for kindred spirits.

I can spot water skiers better by looking them square in the eye, seeking out that vacant stare that signifies too many hours sucking up fumes from a shrieking outboard and wondering, "Can I stop now?"