I usually write a piece for Memorial Day. I didn’t write one this year because I had written a memorial piece just this past Veteran’s Day. But, within minutes of last week’s item posting on May 30, three things happened that made me regret my decision. First, I received word that a fellow Vietnam veteran had died a few days before. Then, I received a Memorial Day ecard from another friend. And, third, between May 31 and June 4, emails from regular readers filled my inbox wanting to know why I had not written one.
It is ALWAYS fitting to remember our military personnel that have died in the defense of this nation. I could NEVER forget it. I rarely talk about my own ventures into the world of combat. In fact, most of us older coots go out of our way to avoid it. Many of us didn’t serve in Vietnam because we felt our nation’s survival was at stake. We did it because, unlike now, the military draft was the law of the land and Vietnam was our “war”… our time to step up and serve, even though Congress never formally declared war. Most of us never thought much about the righteousness of it. It was our duty and we did it.
So, a week late though it is, here is my tribute to the nation’s war dead—from all wars, declared or otherwise. But, instead of the usual run-of-the-mill sentiments, I’ve taken a slightly different track. Our troops go whenever called to where ever our government sends them… NO QUESTIONS ASKED… the same as my Vietnam colleagues and I did. But, sometimes, especially since WWII, we civilians SHOULD ask more questions of our political leaders.
Opinions vary regarding this nation’s sending its best and brightest to participate in every stupid pissing contest on the planet. I’m against it. And, whenever I write about it, I receive the usual critical emails questioning my patriotism—most often, the bulk of them come from John Wayne wannabes whose closest encounters with combat have been in the safety of their living rooms watching old war movies like the Green Berets.
Our rights and freedom aren’t gifts from anyone, mortal or immortal. We possess both because a small group of patriots was able to convince people to take them from King George. And we still have them because we’ve always possessed the national will and military might to defend them to the death against all that would dare to deprive us of them. Because of this fact, America has become a huge banquet of plenty surrounded by a world full of people that are starving to death. And, the day we lose either, the will or our ability, we’ll be joining them, God notwithstanding.
Faith in a Deity—by whatever name people deem as fitting—is a personal choice that many people embrace. I have no problems with it as long as we don’t take it too far. But never ignore that the correlation between a strong nation willing and able to defend itself and that nation’s ability to remain so, is as close to 100% as it gets.
I feel that fawning politicians feigning God’s favor for the sake of votes and a cadre of emotionally armed absolutists spend way too much time reducing this country to some sort of luck-struck nation of fools that are free simply because a Deity de jour has taken mercy on us. It represents pandering at its worst and only serves to diminish the memory and valor of all that have lost their lives in keeping us free and strong. Is there something wrong with the way that the rest of the starving and enslaved world prays to be free? Or, maybe God is just too busy “keeping” America free.
I did two combat tours in Vietnam. While, to the nation taken together, the tens of thousands of names engraved on the Vietnam War Memorial represent the nation’s death statistics from that time, each individual name on that wall represents a direct personal and devastating loss to shattered loved ones and friends.
For me, five of those names are not merely cold statistical representations of the horrors of war. In fact, two of them died on the same day—one of them cradled in my arms. I still have the combat fatigues, his bloodstains still evident.
That was over 44-years ago. I revere Memorial Day, but it isn’t the only day that I remember our war-dead. Not a day of my life has passed since then that I don’t recall the horrors of decades ago. And, while it doesn’t happen with persistency any longer, I still bolt upright in bed in a heart-pounding cold sweat. Only I’m clutching my pillow and, mercifully, I realize that the blood-soaked lifeless soldier’s body and the horrible stench of thick, sticky, bloody goo are, once again, only a nightmare. And, somehow, I’m able to fall back to sleep.
An image of a young woman lying prone and sobbing inconsolably before the grave marker of her beloved at a veteran’s cemetery set me off big time. And, we’d better understand that this is only the tip of an emotional iceberg of deeply rooted grief that loved ones of fallen troops must somehow get through. It doesn’t go away. I still feel it after several decades. As I finish typing this, my eyes are trying to see through a wall of flowing water, a stark reminder that learning to live without our loved ones is not the same as forgetting them. As long as we live, we don’t forget… EVER!
We possess the most powerful and dedicated military in the world. We’re deeply indebted to all who are serving as well as to all who have had their lives taken from them in the battle to keep us strong and free—I’ve never met anyone eagerly awaiting the chance to “GIVE” their lives. I certainly know that I wasn't.
But, with the same level of fervor, I believe that we need to take more deliberation before we send our nation's best and brightest into God-forsaken crap holes without unambiguous mission goals. If the cause is righteous enough to send our troops, it is righteous enough to use overwhelming force with the dual goals of kicking enemy asses into nonexistence and getting our folks back home.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.