Memorial Day 2017

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.

I thought last night of how moved I was by 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.

I was so moved again returning from a recent business trip as a flag-draped coffin was unloaded from the jet parked at the our departure gate into a cart decorated with Last Flight the symbols of the armed forces.   A while later, it was loaded into the luggage compartment of the plane we were boarding  by an honor guard, accompanied by a single marine in full dress.   A good-sized crowd gathered at the window, standing in respect.  Some saluted.  A marine and I were both headed home to our families on the same plane but there wouldn’t be any joy in his arrival.

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’ll hopefully remember to pause for the Moment of Remembrance … a traditional minute of silence at three p.m. on Memorial Day.   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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3 Comments on “Memorial Day 2017”

  1. Chas Says:

    I know only one person who was a marine from east haven who lost his life his name was richard wolcheski. He was about two years behind us in high school.

  2. Bob S. Says:

    Nicely said Bud. I visited that wall and I cried. It is very moving.

    And it is even more poignant when a family member’s name is carved in that stone. My wife’s cousin’s name is forever etched into that wall.

    It is truly a day to reflect on those who have paid the ultimate price to defend what this country deemed important.

  3. Rick Gleason Says:

    I joined the Air Force the day after my 19th birthday and served at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam during the war. I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It was the least I could do for it. Duty doesn’t require thanks.

    I’ve never, ever looked at my service as a sacrifice, nor as a selfless act. Those days were among the best years of my life and with them came many opportunities. I came away so much more the benefactor. My life has been enriched and rewarded in innunerable ways by it. Joining the military was one of the best decisions of my life.

    For many years I defended our presence in Vietnam despite the huge loss of life and the other immense costs associated with it. Just a few years ago however I changed my mind. We should never have gone there, despite the noble cause we had in doing so. We should never have gotten into a war we didn’t intend to finish. Unfortunately the politicians thought otherwise. The price we paid in blood and treasure and our failure to win the war was clearly not worth it.

    “In Vietnam we’ve finally reached the end of the tunnel and there is no light there.” ~~ Walter Cronkite, 30 Apr 1975


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