The flags are out, the parades assembled and the grills cleaned and ready for another Memorial Day get-together. This will be my 69th. It used to be called Decoration Day and we neighborhood kids would hang balloons and crepe paper along with flags from our bicycles and ‘parade’ through the neighborhood.We all thought it to be pretty swell. They don’t refer to it as Decoration Day any longer, but there still is an effort to ‘decorate’ the graves of the fallen military.
Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued the 1868 proclamation declaring the first Decoration Day. He credited his wife, Mary Logan, with the suggestion for the commemoration. But the idea had its roots in the decoration of the graves of Civil War dead by women. Do the Vietnamese decorate the graves of their soldiers dead in the Vietnam War? Or the North Koreans, Afghans or Iraqis? Or for that matter, the Germans? I don’t know, but we do- or at least the relatives of the fallen military- or the Scouts, VFW Post, or other civic groups. Lots of small American flags blow in the breeze this morning in graveyards everywhere. When will it end? Not the decorations, but the newly dug graves?
Admiral Mike Mullin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke this morning and reminded the viewers that 6,000 new graves were dug in the past decade alone. Iraq and Afghanistan. Still going on. America has been involved in so many wars over its short two-century life that we often date historical periods with the names of wars that were waged during that time. The Civil War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War. Of course WWI and WWII. Now, the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. I’ve lived through 5 of them. There hardly has been a time period of my life when a war was not going on. When will we ever learn?
The Networks have been running vignettes all this week on the lives of recent Veterans, focusing especially on those with severe disabilities. I watched men with no legs attempting to stand on their new orthopedic legs and others with severe brain trauma learning how to speak once again. They also highlighted the soaring divorce rates among returning Vets as well as the many with PTSD. Although we’ve buried 6,000 in the past decade, there are another 50,000 at least who are alive yet living highly diminished lives stateside. Entire families forever changed or broken apart.
This new crop of returning Veterans will soon be added to the ranks of the Vietnam Vets as one more group of our citizens who were sent abroad through orders from some ideologues who supposed that such a mission would be in the best interest of this nation. Studies of the Vietnam Vets reveal that many of them have endured vitiated lives as a result of being shipped over there in a war that seemingly had no value and no outcome. The present-day Vets returning from both Iraq and Afghanistan will soon be plagued by the same set of ghosts of war as they, too, begin to ponder why they were sent to those god-forsaken lands, especially those wounded warriors returning from Iraq.
It may take rather a while for the Iraqi Veterans to realize and/or admit that they were pawns, cannon fodder in fact, sent over there by a small clutch of ideologues for self-satisfying reasons. It will take time for the Patriotic Fervor to wear thin, but it will wash off as these men and women move on in life. Then the reckoning will exhibit itself in perhaps most-unpleasant ways, just as it did for those returning from the jungles of Vietnam. For all of those who fought in a war with no ‘victory’ it is especially difficult to maintain the memories of those battles, the gunfire, the smells of war.
Children will be sitting on curbs this morning, American flags stuck in their hands by the adults. They will be enamored by the noise and sights of the parade vehicles and the cheap pieces of candy thrown to them. One wonders: will these children too be sent off to distant lands to fight wars conjured up by ideologues sitting in comfortable chairs with axes to grind? When will we ever learn?