Memorial Day 2013

vietnam mem

I graduated from college in 1966, just as U.S. combat troops were being deployed in Vietnam.  It was perhaps our most unpopular war, and like many young men, I was opposed to the war … giving the world the odd sight of a grey Volvo with a peace sticker parking in the lot of one of our nation’s largest defense contractors.  Back then, our military was largely based on the draft, something that I was able to avoid because of my job.  Was that fair?  Maybe not but I am sure I was a better as a designer of submarine equipment than I ever would have been as a soldier.   It was perhaps a low point in our history with conservatives shouting, My country right or wrong, and protestors chanting, Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?  It seemed to be a war fought without a real will to win.  I had a friend who served and returned with tales of being sent out on Search and Destroy missions, only to call in air support having found the enemy and find none was available.   Students protesting the war were shot by soldiers at Kent State University and returning soldiers were harassed by anti-war protesters in airports. 

Through all of the wars and conflicts I have witnessed … and varying degrees of support for our country’s policies leading to these conflicts … I have never confused supporting our national policies with supporting our troops.   Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day are the two occasions on which I try to be certain to fly the flag.   I thought last night of my first trip to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.   Perhaps because I witnessed the war itself through constant media attention, it moved me as perhaps no other memorial memorialhas.  The Wall starts as the war did, only a few feet high with a few names engraved on black marble.  But as you continue down the path along the wall, it grows beside you, as do the rows and columns of names.  By the time you reach the apex, where the two wall sections meet, the wall is over ten feet high and by the time you walk the extent of the memorial, you will have seen 52,270 names.   1,200 are marked with a cross as missing in action … those markedsoldiers with a diamond are confirmed deaths.   The memorial’s design, like the war, was quite controversial, public officials calling it a black gash of shame and a nihilistic slab of stone.  It has, however, become a national shrine, in part, I think, because it memorializes the dead without glorifying the war.  Even the traditional bronze sculpture, The Three Soldiers, which overlooks the wall from off to one side echoes both heroism of our servicemen and the horrors they see on our behalf.

If I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, I think I would visit the Vietnam memorial every Memorial Day as a reminder of those who have died in the service of our country.  Of all our war memorials, it … and perhaps the tomb of the unknown soldier … capture the solemnity with which we should greet this day, if only for a while.   Instead, I’ll hang my flag outside on the garage and hopefully remember to pause for the Moment of Remembrance … a minute of silence at three p.m.   And I’ll take some time to write my fourth Memorial Day post here on Bud’s Blog.  Over 1.3 million soldiers have given their lives for this country … they deserve at least a brief memorial before we head off to our picnics and Memorial Day sales, enjoying the freedom they died to preserve.  God bless America.



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2 Comments on “Memorial Day 2013”

  1. […] “Memorialize the dead without glorifying the war.” […]

  2. territerri Says:

    I remember Vietnamese refugees coming to my grade school when I was nine years old. At that point in my life, I only knew wars through my history books and I related none of it to real life or loved ones. Wars were just stories and I was especially fascinated with the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t until years later when I was able to grasp the horrors and indignities of war, Vietnam in particular. I’m glad you did not have to go.

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