It’s not about the Memorial Day sales. And most politicians are 98% wind and water; so it’s certainly not about every windbag politician taking the opportunity to sound patriotic.
It’s about why and for whom we observe it. I’m going to speak to the matter strictly from my own perspective: that of a combat veteran.
At the outset, I want you to know that in Washington, DC there is a Viet Nam Memorial Wall. It consists of over 58,000 names of service people who died fighting for this country’s “security” interests.
I knew twenty-two of them personally. Five of them were like brothers to me. And two of THEM died in my arms following two separate fire-fights.
That was 50-years ago. I’m in my mid-70s now, and I still occasionally bolt upright in bed tightly clutching my pillow; their faces are as vivid as they were back in that God forsaken jungle.
I feel the stickiness of their blood on my hands and combat fatigues. I watch helplessly as they exhale for the last time. I feel them go dead weight. My heart pounds in my head, and sometimes I can’t get back to sleep!
Personally, I’ve never met any surviving combat veterans who’ve ever expressed the notion of having looked forward to dying for their country. I know that I certainly never did.
Some military people WANT to be “there,” of course, especially young and naïve gung-hoers that can’t wait to get “there” and kick enemy asses. But, most would as soon be somewhere else.
Even the young naïve gung-hoers soon change their attitudes after that first taste of real combat causes them to realize that “there” and Hell are the same place.
It’s amazing how quickly cockiness dissipates in the shadow of genuine fear, frequently accompanied by uncontrollable vomiting and, sometimes, by a loss of both bladder and bowel control.
There is no romanticism about it, either. Strictly speaking, military people die in combat because they’re in the military at the time a war begins, and they end up “there.”
Much of the enlisted fighting force in Viet Nam didn’t join the military. The military draft was the law of the land back then. They had no choice; they were drafted and sent “there.”
The reason that our service men and women deserve our nation’s unyielding respect and eternal gratitude isn’t because they’re “unselfishly” willing to sacrifice their lives for all of us, but rather because they persistently honor their commitment to complete assigned missions, even to the death if necessary.
And herein lies the honor and dignity of military service, volunteer or otherwise. These are ordinary people, who unfailingly achieve extraordinary tasks under unfathomably dangerous circumstances.
It’s why the military ideal, “We’ll ALL come back—though some will be dead—or none of us will come back” is not just rhetoric. They believe it to very depths of their souls, and they prove it every day of their lives.
The other aspect of Memorial Day pertains to the loved ones left behind; the ones who must, somehow, try to piece their lives back together after a good deal of their reason for living has died in combat.
Our concern for those who have died in combat, and their families, is genuine. But it’s also, for the most part, clinical. That all changes, though, when it involves one of our own. Then it becomes very personal.
Generally, we do not experience war’s full impact. At best, we’ll see a few flag-draped caskets being carried off of transport planes. It’s all very ceremonial, solemn, and respectful. But, it’s also quite sanitized.
The raw, terrible reality that, many times, the remains inside those caskets are missing critical parts is always born by their surviving loved ones. Unless we clinical observers have experience to the contrary, we miss this hideous point entirely.
The Pentagon refers to such cases as “viewing not recommended.” Inside of such caskets are shrouded, unrecognizable remains of what was, not long ago, someone’s loving spouse, child, parent, sibling, or friend.
The remains are shrouded, tucked beneath an immaculately prepared empty dress uniform, complete with medals and ribbons. Oh, there is a body, or what’s left of one, but you’d have to reach down, beneath the dress uniform to feel it inside of the shroud.
If the media would let this reality smack us between our eyes, the incessant chest thumping on the part of too many wannabe warriors would stop in a hurry. And, our politicians would learn, first hand, the meaning of direct accountability.
And finally, it’s time all of us come to understand that this nation is not free because some version of a benevolent deity is on “our side.”
While it is nice, snuggly, and acceptable to think such thoughts as a matter of religious faith, it is folly of the worst sort to rely too heavily on such beliefs as a matter of military tactics.
As a nation, in uniform or not, beginning on the day we declared ourselves independent from King George, right up to the present, we’ve always been willing AND able to do whatever we had to do in order to keep ourselves free.
If we ever lose either the will or the ability to defend ourselves—to the death if necessary—against all foes, we’ll forfeit our freedoms and render our Constitution worth less than the paper it’s written on; God notwithstanding, of course.
Our military personnel have always held true to their commitment of service, even to the fullest measure, to keep us free. Our civilian population, overwhelmingly, has always been willing to make the sacrifices to support our troops, the perceived righteousness of the war aside.
Before we send our best and brightest into harm’s way, we’d better have a righteous reason for doing so. We’d better fully understand precisely what we’re asking our youngsters to do. And, we’d better possess a national resolve to complete the mission successfully and bring them home.
A President’s clueless hankering to kick some ass does not qualify, and a Congress inept at driving that point home is useless to us as a nation.
And, once we have our war veterans back home again, particularly the wounded, we’d better be prepared to take care of them with the same level of commitment that they had when they fulfilled theirs.
There seems to be an increasingly diminishing effort regarding this last point. And it should piss us off BIG time.