Memorial Day is their
day, isn't it? It is supposed to be the day a
grateful nation pauses to quietly thank the more than one million men
and women who have died in military service to their country since
the Revolutionary War.
Or is it the day the
beach resorts kick into high gear for the summer
season, the day the strand is covered by fish-belly white people
basting themselves in coconut oil, the day the off-season rates end
and the weekend you can't get in a seaside seafood restaurant with
anything less than a one hour wait.
Or is it one of the biggest
shopping center sales days of the year, a
day when hunting for a parking space is the prime sport for the
Or is it the weekend
when more people will kill themselves on the
highways than any other weekend and Highway Patrol troopers work
overtime picking up the pieces?
I think the men and women
who died for us would understand what we do
with their day. I hope they would, because if they wouldn't, if they
would have insisted that it be a somber, respectful day of
remembrance, then we have blown it and dishonored their sacrifice.
I knew some of those
who died, and the guys I knew would have
They liked a sunny beach
and a cold beer and a hot babe in a black
bikini, too. They would have enjoyed packing the kids, the
inflatable rafts, the coolers, and the suntan lotion in the car and
heading for the lake. They would have enjoyed staying at home and
cutting the grass and getting together with some friends and cooking
some steaks on the grill, too.
But they didn't get the
chance. They blew up in the Marine Barracks
in Beirut and died in the oily waters of the Persian Gulf. They
caught theirs at the airstrip in Grenada in the little war everyone
laughed at. They bought the farm in the I Drang Valley and on
Heartbreak Ridge, Phu Tai and at Hue. They froze at the Chosin
Reservoir and were shot at the Pusan Perimeter. They drowned in the
surf at Omaha Beach or fell in the fetid jungles of Guadalcanal.
They died in the ice and snow of the Bulge and the Vosges Mountains.
They were at the Somme and at San Juan Hill and at Gettysburg and
at Cerro Gordo and at Valley Forge.
They couldn't be here
with us this weekend, but I think they would
understand that we don't spend the day in tears and heart-wrenching
memorials. They wouldn't want that. Grief is not why they died.
They died so we could go fishing. They died so another father could
hold his laughing little girl over the waves. They died so another
father could toss a baseball to his son in their backyard while the
charcoal is getting white. They died so another buddy could drink a
beer on his day off. They died so a family could get in the station
wagon and go shopping and maybe get some ice cream on the way home.
They won't mind that
we have chosen their day to have our first big
outdoor party of the year. But they wouldn't mind, either, if we
took just a second and thought about them.
Some will think of them
formally, of course. Wreaths will be laid in
small, sparsely attended ceremonies in military cemeteries and at
monuments at state capitols and in small town's squares. Flags will
fly over the graves, patriotic words will be spoken and a few people
there will probably feel a little anger that no more people showed
up. They'll think no one else remembers.
But we do remember.
We remember Smitty and Chico, and Davey and the
guys who died. We remember the deal we made: If we buy it, we said, drink a beer for me.
I'll do it for you, guys.
I'll drink that beer for you today, and
I'll sit on that beach for you, and I'll check out the girls for you
and, just briefly, I'll think of you. I won't let your memory spoil
the trip but you'll be on that sunny beach with me today.
I will not mourn your
deaths this Memorial Day, my friends. Rather,
I'll celebrate the life you gave me.
This Bud's for you, brother!
Lest we forget!
As we honor all our veterans:
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED
They carried P-38 can openers and heat tabs, watches
tags, insect repellent, gum, cigarettes, Zippo lighters, salt
tablets, compress bandages, ponchos, Kool-Aid, two or three
canteens of water, iodine tablets, sterno, LRRP-rations, and
C-rations stuffed in socks. They carried standard fatigues,
jungle boots, bush hats, flak jackets, and steel pots. They
carried the M-16 assault rifle. They carried trip flares and
Claymore mines, M-60 machine guns, the M-70 grenade launcher,
M-14's, CR-15s, Stoners, Swedish K's, 66 mm Laws, shotguns, 45 caliber
pistols, silencers, the sound of bullets, rockets,
and choppers, and sometimes the sound of silence. They carried
C-4 plastic explosives, an assortment of hand grenades, PRC-25
radios, knives and machetes.
Some carried napalm, CBU's, and large bombs; some risked
lives to rescue others. Some escaped the fear, but dealt with the death and
damages. Some made very hard decisions, and some just tried to survive.
They carried malaria, dysentery, ringworms, and leaches.
carried the land itself as it hardened on their boots. They
carried stationery, pencils, and pictures of their loved ones
real and imagined. They carried love for people in the real
world, and love for one another. And sometimes they disguised
that love: "Don't mean nothin'!"
They carried memories!
For the most part, they carried themselves with poise
kind of dignity. Now and then, there were times when panic
set in, and people squealed, or wanted to, but couldn't; when
they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads
and said, "Dear God," and hugged the earth and fired their
weapons blindly, and cringed and begged for the noise to stop,
and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and God
and their parents, hoping not to die. They carried the traditions of the
United States military, and memories and images of those who served before
them. They carried grief, terror, longing, and their reputations.
They carried the soldier's greatest fear, the embarrassment
of dishonor. They crawled into tunnels, walked point, and
advanced or flew into fire, so as not to die of embarrassment.
They were afraid of dying, but too afraid to show it.
carried the emotional baggage of men and women who might die
at any moment. They carried the weight of the world, and
the weight of every free citizen of America.
THEY CARRIED EACH OTHER.
Let us remember them this Memorial Day, May 28, 2001.
Because We can Never Forget!
Recently, my wife and I visited
Australia. April 25th is their Memorial
Day. Large signs on buildings and along roads remained the citizens
that ANZAC day was on the 25th and that "We Will Never Forget"... We
were in Brisbane and there was to be a gathering at the War Memorial at
4AM in order to have a sunrise service. I got up at 3AM and walked down
to the city center to the Memorial. . . There were 20,000 people there!!!
At 4AM!! The crowd included war veterans wearing their medals and
families. . . All dressed up. . . As Tap were sounded there was complete
silence. Not a sound. . . Most of the crowd were young people.. It was
very moving. . . I was wearing my baseball hat with my parachute wings and
the lapel pins of my Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.. One of
the Aussie vets asked me where I served. When I told him that in 1943 I
was in New Guinea, he took my hand a thanked me for fighting along side
them.and stopping the Japs from invading Australia. I was choked up and
almost cried. Imagine being thanked for doing what all Americans did
during the War so long ago . . . Monday is Memorial Day here and everyone
is off to the stores to take advantage of the sales. . . It wasn't always
like that. . . When I was a boy before WWII, Americans celebrated the
veterans and all of their sacrifices. I remember the old Civil War vets
in the back of convertibles and the Spanish American War Vets marching
in front of the WWI vets.. Too bad that we cannot pass on all of these
memories to the kids today. . . .
Authors Name Withheld
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