Monday, May 30, 2016

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is hard for me.  I am always assaulted with conflicting emotions when it comes to Memorial Day.  I am alway unsure of what the "right" way to "celebrate" this day is.  I am not sure what is proper.  Do I remain somber, and aloof?  Do I join in on the "festivities" and traditional BBQs?  Do I commiserate the losses, men I knew like SFC Doster, and PFCs Craig and Harrelson?  What about PFC Max L. Bailey who is still missing somewhere on the east side of Chosin (Changjin) Reservoir in North Korea?  I don't know how I'm supposed to feel.  I want nothing more than clarity here because I need some.

Memorial Day has become festive almost.  People gathering and grilling and generally celebrating the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.  There are parades and obligatory flag waving along with token gestures acknowledging the sacrifices of the Soldiers, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Airmen, and Marines of the United States.  From Lexington green to Helmand Province Americans have fought everywhere and paid a high price for the freedoms we enjoy, what's more, we unlike almost any other country in the world will fight for the freedoms of other nations.  We haven't always done it perfectly but Americans seem ready willing and able to fight when freedom is on the line.

Perhaps the festive air is a good thing.  America's ideals were not meant for doom and gloom.  The horror of constant Chinese attacks over 4 days in -30 degree weather are not something it is a good thing to dwell on, yet I can appreciate some of the terror my great uncle Max felt before he died.  I don't want people to dwell on the gruesome injuries I saw Craig suffer, or worry about the dreams of Harrelson maybe burning to death in a humvee.  Maybe it is better that people know in some vague intellectual sense that these sacrifices are happening so that they really appreciate those burgers/steaks.

But for me, it is different.  I remember well the sheer terror of "putting my shit on" and climbing into the death trap humvees.  Driving on roads that could hide bombs of incredible and pants shitting size in piles of trash that are literally everywhere.  I can close my eyes and feel the heat as 2-2 burned, rounds cooking off mere meters away.  I can still feel that eternal moment after the AT-4 blew when I wasn't sure if I was still there or not.    Reading of SFC Doster's widow's struggles after his death, and the sheer heartbreak she continues to feel at his loss, a heartbreak I understand all too well, how can I feel any sense of festivity?

What really bothers me is that there are times I don't want to remember.  I want to forget it all and go back to a time when I didn't carry this burden.  Am I dishonoring these men and women by that thought?  Do I owe it to them to carry this weight?  Am I, by virtue of being a witness, bound by honor, and duty to carry the memory of them like an invisible rucksack weighing me down?  Is it wrong to want to be free, and to feel the same sense of ease that so many other Americans feel on Memorial Day?

I don't have answers.  I know it's wrong of me to try to explain to civilians that Memorial Day is not for me.  I know it's wrong to shame well-meaning civilians (including my mom) thanking Veterans today.  I don't want to tell people about Craig and the sorrow I feel that he only saw his daughter once before he died.  I don't want to explain the life Harrelson seemed to have laid out before him.  My own life is such a mess I don't feel I've done these men justice.

Memorial day is hard.  I am not sure how I should feel.  Because I am so conflicted I often avoid festivities.  I am not sure what the right thing to do here is.  I hope one day I'll have answers.


Constitutional Insurgent said...

I feel much the same way. The problem I'm grappling with is what to teach my daughters about Memorial Day. Somber....gratitude...a mix...or let them figure it out on their own, so long as they know it's not about consumer sales. Good post.

Fermina Daza said...

I don't think there is one answer - not for you, personally, or for the American people in general. Like CI said above, there is a place for solemnity and gratitude, but there is also a place for celebrating and enjoying the freedoms of this country that those men and women who died fought to protect and preserve. The two need not be mutually exclusive.

It's ok to desire to be absolved of the burden. That is normal. That is human. And it doesn't diminish their sacrifice (in my opinion).

In talking with my friends that have lost their loved one, the thing I hear most often is the worry that their loved one will be forgotten. As Americans, we owe it to them to never forget. I hope and pray you can find a balance.

And thank you. For your service. For remembering them. For caring for them.

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