Another Memorial Day has come and gone and I was fortunate enough to not have to work. Post-Nuclear families were preparing the bar-b-que pits and grills for an afternoon of overindulgence in tubed meat smothered in a rainbow of condiments. Secret recipes for potato salad, macaroni salad and delicious deserts were guarded better than the entry gates of airports by the TSA.
Fathers and sons rush to get the yard ready for the first cookout of the year hopefully in time to get down to the local parade route and find a good seat in the shade near the grandstands. If they don’t finish in time they send the women-folk out to secure the enviable spots. All the while, local school bands, VFW posts, car dealerships and businesses along with some municipal departments are staging their floats near the start of the parade route. The chaos and lack of organization of these staging areas raise blood pressures in the event organizers. Miniature cars are carefully offloaded by the local Khedive and clowns practice making animals out of balloons under the nearest shade trees. Occasionally a golf cart with a large water cooler on the back goes by all these people and a crowd quickly forms to get hydrated before the long march. A fight may break out, then again, when it doesn’t, people are surprised.
I want to say I am fortunate enough to live in a city that has the longest running Memorial Day Parade, but I can’t. I’ve attended this parade and have even participated in the madness of driving through the streets and waving at all the nice folks that took time out of their lives to come see us. But, over the years, the commercialization and rudeness of the parents who walk along the route with their kids and screaming to everyone within earshot “That’s my KID! The one playing the tuba! Ain’t he/she great!” all the while puffing on a cigarette and pushing people out of their way. It’s downright shameful.
But that is just one small factor in why I’ve stopped attending these parades. A few years ago I had an epiphany. It was while I was standing on the side of the road watching the Vet’s walk by. Some were middle aged, some in their sixties and a few, well, I hate to guess how old they were but I knew they served in WWII. These men, sorry ladies you were not represented, all carried themselves with as much military bearing they could manage. Even the guy in the wheel chair was at attention as he wheeled himself in formation with the rest of his brethren of fire. I felt sad for them and all the men and women who served but were not with us anymore. As the crowd cheered and clapped for them with little enthusiasm. A local marching band followed behind these men and the crowd erupted in applause that is usually garnered for stadium bands the bile in my stomach began an escape attempt from my body.
The disgust I felt for the people around me was so tangible I quickly made my way to the back of the crowd, sat down and put my head in my hands. I am a vet, I served, I gave four years of my youth for this country along with countless pints of blood, sweat and tears. I rarely talk about my time in the service, well, the details that is, with people in my life. Sure I have Sea Stories I occasionally divulge when someone asks about the Navy. But I reserve all the bad shit for the men I served with or the men that have served. Which is one of the reasons I stay away from the VFW’s, I don’t want to open old wounds. Wounds that will never truly heal, but have a nice layer of scar tissue as tough as any metal on earth. But none of what I suffered could be compared to the vets of Viet Nam or WWII or even the Gulf War Vets. But I felt the pain that was conveyed in their eyes. Anyone who has been in the military knows this look, it is a look that says a person has had too little sleep, too much work and too much stress. These men had it, even though years had passed since the incidents that had caused them to lose the part of themselves in some foreign country and never to find it again. Sure they fake it occasionally, quite convincingly to most people but a VET can look into another VET’s eyes and know immediately they are a brother.
Sitting there on that stump, behind a crowd of screaming parents, and watching a group of clowns throw candy at the little children on the curbs I made up my mind to boycott most Memorial Day festivities. The writing on the wall was clear; the good citizens just don’t understand the toll the War Machine of America takes upon its volunteers. They never will. How can they? They are fed the pabulum of quick entertainment through the media and thinking how special their mediocre tuba playing kid is. They don’t understand that every day the good men and women from places in their country they have never heard of are dying on foreign soil for their freedoms. Freedoms they take for granted.
So on this Memorial Day, I went for a motorcycle ride on an American Made motorcycle. And while I was on that ride I thought about all the men I knew when I was in the Navy who are no longer with us. I also thought about the men I occasionally see at my ships reunion. I thought about my Uncle, my Father, my cousin and my brother in laws, all who have given at least four years of service to this country to try and make it a better place for each and every one of us. I said more than a few prayers for everyone I knew and didn’t know who served, suffered and died for our native soil.
The ride wasn’t long enough but then I don’t think any ride would be long enough to fully grasp the scope of what men and women have given to this country so that it may remain free. I would love to say I made peace with my distaste for the celebratory nature people have taken with this holiday, but I can’t. I hope someday the proper attitude is given to our departed, maimed and tortured souls who’ve served us. They are the nameless and faceless men and women who we will never truly know. Yes, some of their names are on monuments around our country and we can go look at them any time we wish. But do you really know what type of person they were? What type of person they would have been? Or even, what type of person they are today?
So, even though Memorial Day has come and passed, I am still haunted by all the brave Soldiers, Sailors and Medics who have served and are serving our country to this day. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!
Now, please, go out there and thank a vet and try to be as sincere as possible.