wpe1.jpg (12422 bytes)

transitions-counseling.com Where Your Help Begins Online   

Keeping the Vigil - A Veteran's Perspective of Memorial Day

 By Granville Angell                                             Lincoln Times-News, May 26, 2006

            For many 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.

            Like many 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 ultimate sacrifice?

            On Memorial 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.

            And every 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.

            Many veterans 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.

            It was 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.

            It’s having 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.

            We, the 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.

            “Support the 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 commercial profit.

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.

To call TRANSITIONS/SoulMentors: (704) 276-1164

Find out about my book!

defaul1.jpg (2831 bytes)