I'm feeling a bit subdued this Memorial Day, remembering my time in the military, especially in Vietnam. Some names of those I knew have started to fade, but their faces and voices and personalities remain clear. I hope that as you attend family gatherings and share special meals, you'll take a moment to honor those who served, those who gave their lives or returned home with physical or emotional wounds ~ men and women from all wars, on all sides. It's too easy to become sidetracked by the crass abomination of sales or sporting events, and forget the true purpose of the holiday.
I've been fortunate to visit the Vietnam Memorial (known familiarly as The Wall) several times ~ each was spent in reflection and tears. This morning I happened upon a brief article of interesting facts about the 58,267 names incised there ~ sets of fathers and sons, brothers, age groups, dates, casualties from home towns. One pair of figures struck me ~
- 997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam
- 1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam
Just about everyone in the war zone kept a 'short-timer's calendar', and knew how many days remained to be served in country. As the number of days dwindled, the anxiety of the newcomer (having no idea what to expect) was replaced by a different anxiety ~ understanding all too well what could happen, and determined to survive. Some resorted to superstitious rituals, hoping to increase their chances of getting out alive. Others just took it one day at a time, their senses honed to a keen edge.
I like the way the cited article concludes ~ "For most Americans who read this, they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created. To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created. We are, until we too pass away, haunted by these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters."