Lest We Forget
© Peter Marlow / Magnum Photos
Repeated from Friday's post, These Honored Dead:
Memorial Day is supposed to be a day set aside to remember the sacrifices of our military in wars – popular and unpopular – throughout our history.
Far too many people forget the meaning of the day, just as they forget the meaning of Flag Day, and Veteran's Day. To most Americans, this weekend will be about prepping the house for summer, planting gardens, and barbequing. It will be about beer and friends, races and baseball.
I was raised to remember all those who gave 'that last full measure of devotion'. My father was a lifetime member of the American Legion, and a Post Commander. He was a stickler for the rules of flag-handling, and many other solemn events related to the military and honoring their sacrifices. Before I was ten, I knew more about military ritual than most kids.
When I was eight years old, I was given the honor of leading the attendees of the Legion's Memorial Day remembrance in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember little of the experience, except that my father looked very handsome in his Post Commander's cap, and that there seemed to be a million people in the audience.
From my father, I learned a lot about ritual, but it was from my mother that I learned about the cost of war.
My paternal grandmother sent four sons to war. Three returned to her; the fourth buried with his comrades on a small plain in France. Her mother waited in vain for her son to return from World War I, but like so many, he perished in a foreign land, his final resting place unknown.
My maternal grandmother watched her brothers leave to fight in World War II. Of the four, two came home; one later to become an instructor at the Air Force Academy. Later, she saw her youngest son drafted, in 1964.
My mother was fourteen and remembers vividly the pride and the fear the family felt as they watched him leave for US Navy boot camp. She remembers the eighteen months of terror spent waiting for any word, after the Navy reported him missing in action. She remembers the sense of relief and guilt that assailed them all, but especially him, when he came home injured, but not maimed or crippled. Alive, unlike so many others.
Many people often express surprise that I am very pro-military. I understand this – it's hard for most people to understand that you can hate wars and the reasons for fighting them, but still love, honor, and support the US military.
Servicemen and women do not choose their battles, they do not choose their enemies. They are told where to go and what to do by leaders that may or may not have their best interests at heart, by leaders who may or may not have seen combat themselves. And they do they very best they can, under circumstances the rest of us will never be able to comprehend.
My problem is not, and never has been, with the men and women in uniform. It is with those who send those men and women into harm's way without valid reason, without proper equipment and supplies. It is with those who scream themselves hoarse about supporting the troops, but cut veterans benefits in wartime and order them – in America's name – to violate international law and their own moral code.
It is with those who mistreat the American soldier while calling the rest of us unpatriotic.
© Erich Hartmann / Magnum Photos
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