Granville Angell Lincoln Times-News, May 26, 2006
years, Memorial Day has been a special day for me, because it is a day
when company comes calling. I don’t mean the typical kind of company,
like relatives for the weekend. It’s more like a day of joining, where I
know all across the country my fellow citizens are taking special time
to remember those who have fallen in battle for the sake of preserving
American Democracy. Why do I, and so many other veterans, experience
Memorial Day as a time of company calling? Because we are the ones who
stood beside those who fell in battle. It is a day when the rest of
America joins us in the vigil.
For us, every
day is Memorial Day. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think of
friends and fellow soldiers who died in Vietnam. I remember Jim Zeimet.
At 20 years of age, I thought I was a hot pilot when I graduated from
Army Aviation School, but he taught me in-country to fly a helicopter
ambulance like it was an extension of my own body. And baby-faced Arv
Silverberg, who loaned me the poncho liner I didn’t get to return
because he was no longer with us. I wish I could name them all. I think
of the brave crews I was honored to fly with, some of whom had their
last flight home in a body bag. Then there were the countless wounded we
picked up, all of whom had encountered one or more of the countless ways
of dying in a war zone. Some took their last breaths in the back of our
helicopter; while others lived on to join the ranks of the living who
hold the vigil on Memorial Day.
vets, I wonder why I was spared the fatal bullet or explosion that
shredded the next guy standing in my steps. How was I worthy to crawl
out of the burning wreckage of a helicopter when my best friend did not?
For veterans, the “what ifs” and the “if onlys” and the
“woulda-coulda-shoulda’s” take on a burden equal to the weight and lost
time of those whose soulless bodies were brought back to be buried in
the soil of the land for which they gave their lives. How could we not
remember them? They died for us. As brothers in arms, who once stood in
ranks behind us and beside us, they are us. How could we not wonder and
marvel at why Life spared us, while selecting those who would go on
before us? How could we do otherwise but live out the remainder of our
lives holding a silent vigil in our hearts for those who made the
Day, we who had the horror and honor of watching them go, stand and wait
before the rest of America in anticipation and appreciation of the full
company of those who will join us in the vigil.
year, that company seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Many of us
perceive that it’s because the real meaning of Memorial Day was diluted
by the legislation that made the holiday part of the three day weekend,
beginning-of-Summer event. After all, it’s not a comfortable thing to
think about things like war and pain and the sacrifice of death, so why
not put it out of our minds with our barbeques and boating trips and uh,
oh, we can’t forget the sales – after all, what would Memorial Day be
without the sales?
So, if you
are among those who have lost touch with the true meaning of Memorial
Day, will you at least take a moment out of your barbeque, or vacation,
or whatnot, to remember those who gave their lives to preserve the
ground under your barbeque grill and the livelihood you live that
allowed your vacation? At least this small act will be appreciated by
those of us who don’t have the option of putting those ultimate
sacrifices out of our minds.
There are two
reasons why veterans don’t have that option. The first, we already
covered. We, who had the horror and honor of watching them go, would
never leave behind the sacredness of their memories in our hearts. For
us, the vigil is not optional. The second reason, for veterans, has to
do with the fact that the fallen are us. Our lives are forever
inextricably interwoven with the lives of those who have fallen, because
it is the duty of those who have survived to carry on the essence and
ideals of those who gave their lives for us.
will tell you, to have survived where others did not has imbued our
lives with a special kind of meaning and grace. But, deeper yet, a sense
of obligation. So many of us survivors question whether we deserve this
honor and we have struggled in our lives to live up to the sacrifice of
those who fell beside us. It’s not easy trying to make your life count
for all those who didn’t have that chance.
additionally painful returning to a country that didn’t offer that
chance. So many of us came back home to be blamed for our service; to be
called baby-killers, and denied jobs, benefits and other life
opportunities; to be ignored in our needs for the nurturance of our
wounds – physical and psychological – by a country that claimed to be a
“grateful nation.” So many of us have come to envy those who fell beside
us – those who were spared the epithets and disgrace and dishonor for
doing what we had to do in the name of our country – that some of us
chose to leave this life by our own hand, rather than face further pain.
But, worst of all, is the increasing loneliness of the vigil.
the memory of our fallen brothers and sisters “lumped in” with the
festivities of the summer kick-off weekend. It’s the taking of only a
few token moments to remember and consider, while grass grows high on
many grave sites and the most moving emotional experience is
all-too-often the thrill of a purchase at a Memorial Day sale.
veterans of America’s wars, appeal to the American people. Ignore us if
you will. Deny our benefits and under-fund the programs we need, if you
must. Don’t vote in your apathy over the freedoms for which so many gave
their ultimate sacrifice. But please don’t continue to slip away from
the ranks of those who keep the vigil. If you do nothing else, please
stand beside those of us who do not have the option of forgetting,
because we need your strength. We need your affirmation that we are not
alone in remembering the sacrifices of those who fell beside us. At
least do this. Remember Memorial Day and keep its meaning.
Troops” is not a slogan on a bumper sticker. Because the sacrifices of
war are forever, it’s an eternal proposition. Only by remembering can we
come to an eventual realization of the futility of war as a means to
settle human differences.
© 5/2006 by Granville Angell: May be reproduced and circulated without
Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor
with 30 years experience, invites readers to submit questions for his
column to his web site: www.transitions-counseling.com . He may be
reached at his private practice, TRANSITIONS Personal & Family
Counseling Services by emailing angell(at)transitions-counseling.com.
TRANSITIONS/SoulMentors: (704) 276-1164
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