My father was a proud Marine who served in Vietnam from 1967-1969. I know that Memorial Day was important to him, as it is to many veterans. I imagine that recognition for service is important to those who have served. For someone who was (literally) spat upon when returning home from two tours of duty, perhaps Memorial Day provided a source of solace. To finally be thanked by the public must’ve provided some consolation. Perhaps not for the reasons that people said out loud—”for your service,” “for your bravery,” “to protect our country”—but for doing something that wasn’t entirely his choice, something that no one could prepare a young man or woman for. The public Memorial Day displays for veterans border on pandering these days. It is important for the general public to participate, but I believe the power of the day is between veterans. We have no idea.
Undoubtedly, the day provides a sense of community. “You are like me,” he must’ve thought, “you have seen what my eyes can’t unsee.” No words. Just knowing that others have made it through to the other side, doing the best they can to live in this world. Many continue to serve, no longer under duress or otherwise forced or drafted. But they still enter into that service covenant much like those drafted, without the slightest clue of what war can do to them.
The details that lie between my father’s service and his death are not what matter about Memorial Day. But that is what I remember on Memorial Day. There’s nothing easy about how the war affected him and how that pain manifested itself post-war all the way up until his death. Certainly it was not something that deserves much remembrance.
Although my father’s name is not on The Wall in Washington, D.C., I often think that it should be. Not just his name–but so many others who were eventual casualties of the war, after lifetimes of emotional and physical suffering. Those men and women who “came home,” but never really did.