Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a time for us to remember (to re-member, to rejoin our spirits with) those men and women who died on fields of combat throughout this nation and the world in defense of freedom.
Or so we claim.
I am a Vietnam vet. I spent two tours of duty in Nam in 1964-66. I arrived when the U.S.presence there was minuscule and we were all part of what was called the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG). Not long after my arrival, we were renamed Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) about the same time the first U.S. combat troops– the First Marine Amphibious Force — arrived in supposed secrecy at a rapidly constructed airstrip south of DaNang. The troops were greeted by dozens of young Vietnamese boys and girls selling Coca Cola on ice, not one of whom should have known of the landing.
During my two tours in Nam, I was a correspondent for two military publications — The MACV Observer and the Daily News Briefs — and traveled the length and breadth of the country doing stories on the Americans fighting and advising there. I saw some combat myself but that wasn’t my primary role. I lost a dozen good friends, two of them when I was physically present.
I don’t spend any energy touting my status as a veteran. I don’t belong to any vets’ groups (though I was a VFW member and post officer at one point). I don’t march in parades. Few of my friends even know I served in Nam. About the most lasting change I can attribute to the experience is my alcoholism, which uprooted and destroyed my life and then became the reason 40 years ago this year that I found sobriety and renewed my life.
But I remember and acknowledge the men and women with whom I served and all who, since then, have sacrificed years, body parts, mental stability and life itself, on the too-many battlefields this country has chosen to create in the nearly 50 years since the Vietnam War fizzled to an ignominious end.
Today, as a quiet, invisible veteran, I am ashamed of my nation and the way it has maltreated those brave souls who were willing to sacrifice everything for freedoms on which politicians today spit with stern visage and righteous pomposity. Our basic human and Constitutional rights are being trampled under freshly polished oxfords and latest-fashion heels on the feet of people who have no understanding of, appreciation for or even belief in the principles for which so many have sacrificed over the years.
Today, veterans returning from multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan — two wars of choice, neither of which will produce a decisive or useful outcome just as Vietnam did not — cannot get medical and mental health care without long and damaging delays. They can’t find jobs in an economy destroyed by greedy people who think the only freedoms worth having are the freedom from conscience and the unbridled freedom to accumulate wealth at others’ expense.
Today, I mourn for those who will continue to bleed and to be sucked dry and to die for no good reason as they continue the military tradition of doing their duty by following orders of men and women who have no clue.
I am glad to be alive. I am not proud of my service but I am fiercely proud of those I knew who “gave the last full measure.” I hope against hope that this nation will sooner than later find its moral compass again, stop inciting global conflict, know when to use the weapons of war and restrain their use to the accomplishment of worthwhile goals to which Americans assent.
Blessed Memorial Day.