Memorial Day, 2017

A day to remember all of those who served in the branches of our military, in history as well as currently, and to honor the sacrifices that were made.

As the saying goes, “All gave some; some gave all.”

An extra Federal holiday that allows for a long weekend and marks the beginning of summer. Usually the first cook-out of the year.

A weekend filled with tourists invading your (historical) small town, filling up the restaurants, stopping traffic to take the same photos as hundreds of others have taken and making it impossible to rent a hotel room for your family’s visit.

Just another day to the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The local veteran’s group has put small American flags on every grave in Arlington cemetery, as they will do again on the 4th of July and on 11 November.

A commercial excuse for selling even more unnecessary, unwanted, overpriced-but-dropped-the-price-to-seem-cheaper-to-buy products than on a weekend without a holiday.

Just a reminder that Congress needs to increase the military budget. Again. And another day to attempt to get the F-35 to actually fly.

A day for an ever-dwindling amount of old men, in wheelchairs or pushing walkers, to gather together and remember when they were young; to speak of the horrors of war, the terrors of battle to others who also intimately understand it. No need to gloss over or omit anything that happened with these, their fellow soldiers.

A day for visiting too many cemeteries; seeing too many grave markers of young men and women, killed in the line of duty, never realizing their full potential before being sacrificed on the altar of the Military Industrial Complex.

I am a veteran. I served for a full four year enlistment, from 1980 until 1984, in the United States Air Force. I viewed it as a job and once released from military duty, didn’t think too much of it. I was not eligible for the GI Bill, having served during the few years it was not offered. I was married to another USAF airman, who also didn’t think of his 11 years’ of service as more than a job. Until it was time to buy a home, at which time we happily used his benefits to get a decent mortgage cost. And then didn’t think about being a vet again…

…until I became disabled (not related to the military) and lost my job. My father, a Vietnam Veteran, with a full pension because of his exposure to Agent Orange, told me to check on healthcare benefits with the Veterans Administration. I did, and to my amazement, they granted me that benefit. I was very grateful for this and still did not really connect it to the time I spent in uniform.

…until I moved to Eureka, CA. Land of the hippies, in the Redwood forests, with nature lovers and pacifists and vegetarians all around. I was, and am, still getting all of my healthcare courtesy of the VA. And in nearly every single encounter with staff, I am thanked for my service. It startles me. I did my job, nothing major to it. I didn’t serve in wartime, I had no opportunity to smother a grenade and protect my battalion, no chance to shoot an enemy for freedom and the American way. The only real difference between that job and any other I have had is that I didn’t have to buy work clothes…and most companies don’t require an annual physical test of sit-ups and running.

My daughter’s best friend was destined for the military and began his journey by going to a military college. Considered to be on active duty (sort of), he was attending classes to be the very best that he could be, just like the commercials say.

…until one night, he and his friends were in a car that hit a tree. One died almost immediately. Her friend spent more than an hour bleeding internally before dying of blood loss. The driver was paralyzed. She went to the funeral. And when we were in Culpepper, VA, we would go to the National Cemetery there, to visit his gravesite. Even when she moved away, I would stop sometimes and go see him.

Culpepper National Cemetery
He’s not old enough to be here.

My son joined the Navy out of high school. He (and my daughter) had both participated in the Junior ROTC program at their high school, so he was enlisted at a higher paygrade than those who had not. His job was in the Nuclear part of the Navy — but he described it as “being a pool boy”. He took care of the water systems that cool a reactor — slightly more important than vacuuming leaves out of the pool trap. He served well for 11 years but did not reenlist again, so that he could be home with his young children, especially his son. He is also a veteran.

My father’s parents were both in the Army Air Corps, which became the US Air Force. My grandfather was a cook; my grandmother drove ambulances. My mother’s brother was in the Navy, serving in the Pacific during Korea. My (ex) husband’s father served in China during WWII. Military service is a tradition in our family. It was a logical move after high school for me — 3 squares, a bed and a job for 4 years. I might have made it a career but for the fact that Uncle Sam does NOT issue babies to the soldiers. I chose to be a mother instead and life went on in a different direction after that.

We need to have Memorial Day. We need to remember war, to honor the sacred dead, to honor those who gave so freely of their time and effort, their bodies, even their lives. But I do despise the casual attitude most people have to it, seeing only a reason for another day off from work, a chance to begin the summer routine. Our WWII veterans are dying off and when they are gone, the lessons we should have learned from that war will go with them. The “Korean War” was never officially a war; like Vietnam, it was a “conflict”, a “police action”. All that fighting in the desert still only qualifies as “police action” and not a war, even though it looks an awful lot like one.

It seems as if the government, or maybe that aforementioned Military Industrial Complex, wants to make fighting and death more “palatable”, using trigger words like “freedom”, “rights”, “remove repression”, “stop terror”. It’s more antiseptic, more able to be talked about without really considering just what is actually happening. It keeps the general population in check, not protesting larger and larger budgets for the military, not shrieking in outrage at the sheer numbers of our young people, our hope for the future, being butchered and killed in numbers that are not just meaningful, but obscene.

The fact that our government also feels no need to pay for those losses, to ensure the best and most advanced care for EVERY veteran who returns wounded in mind and body, to ensure that those who do make it back have something to come back to: a home, education, a chance for success in their life…is also obscene.

I am not a child, a dreamer trapped inside my own ivory tower. I understand human nature. I acknowledge that we have always had war and will always have war because there are people who want to destroy: lives, homes, governments, religions. But I do not, and cannot, condone the ongoing and apparently permanent military actions, especially in parts of the world that have no particular interest for us except fossil fuels. We aren’t fighting to stop terror; we’re not bringing peace and prosperity to lands that are in need. We’re fighting to feed the oil companies, to ensure that they will continue to make huge profits until that last drop comes out of the ground.

We’re also fighting to ensure that our economy, which has become based on and within the Military Industrial Complex, stays built on military actions and the lives of our children. What kind of animal eats its own young? And yes, I know that there are animals which do that…but are we as savage as that? Do we lack a brain for understanding, for showing compassion, for working towards living instead of fighting to death?

I honor the dead and thank the living who have been through the wars, who fought because they were asked to do so. I mark Memorial Day as a day of reflection on what it means to be a veteran, to have children who understand the military way, to come from a family of people who served our country for the last 70+ years. I don’t like the commercialism, the carnival air that has grown up around this day of remembering.

I also wish, with all of my heart, that we didn’t have to even have this holiday.

We remember.
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