Day 280: A somber remembrance
Memorial day brings mixed feelings for me. It’s the inevitable culmination of militarism and hero worship. It’s a yearly reminder of my failures and losses. It’s a memorial for the civilians that are blind to the abuses of the military. It’s for those who greedily accept the most we can do is have mindless celebrations and for those who enjoy the egregious use of platitudes that punctuate the day. Well now, it’s time for some cold hard truth that you don’t want to hear.
Seven years ago I wrote a story about the feelings that come back because of memorial day I also titled “A somber remembrance.” I will be quoting that writing here heavily. I like it because it was succinct, but only told one facet of the story. It was a story of loss and coping:
What do you tell a woman when you were supposed to protect the man she loved?
You tell her you did your best, then you shut up and she tells you exactly what she thinks of your best and where you can shove it.
Looking back, it’s strange to see a lot of the same emotions I hold today. It was really as much about me and my suffering as it was about the people I watched being buried.
I’ve attended more funerals than I like to admit. Made promises to mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and girlfriends. Promises I knew I could not keep, but anything to give them one more peaceful night’s sleep. I’ve been called a hero and a monster in the same day. I’ve been thanked for coming home and told I should be the one in the box.
Frankly, I wish I had been, no one would have had to cry for me.
Fortunately, not all of us come home in a box. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t like that. Heroes are made on the battlefield. Stories of the glory of war and the determination that make us Americans are what sells people to join the military. Do something that matters, make history, change the world. Coming home is antithetical to the mission of the government, to sell war.
Seven years ago I was grieving, now I’m just angry all the fucking time. When you come home you are treated like trash for a reason. You weren’t supposed to make it. We have Veterans killing themselves in VA hospital parking lots and no one cares.
Yet one day a year we memorialize the people who died in combat and sweep everyone else under the rug. Today is barbeques, beer, and fireworks. We celebrate and even COVID-19 can’t stop us. This is America and we honor the dead by saying fuck the living.
Today is the day that I remember all the good times shared, and cry over all the good times that will never be. A day where I look over and see them, sunburnt, sand etched into the creases of their dirty faces. The contrast of the dark dirt on the skin makes their smiles seem even whiter. I can see it so clearly that I reach out to grab them and pull them home, only to end with a fist full of air.
I doubt this will get the accolades or have the reach that writing did. People don’t like criticism. We don’t like taking off the mask and looking in the mirror. Civilians like the idea of celebrating the losses of the military, it’s less work than admitting they don’t care about the ones that came home.
As I write this and shout into the void, I need you to hear me. I need you to understand that my veteran brothers and sisters are suffering. I need you to understand that you are, in part, responsible for that suffering.
We are fucking hurting. Don’t thank me for my service when you would rather see my tombstone and fantasize about how I died a glorious death. Fuck it, let’s fire up the grill and celebrate those losses with some hamburgers. That makes it all fucking better.
Today is the day that I remember the last words, spoken to me by a friend I loved like a brother:
I know you’ll keep me alive Sergeant.
Sorry Marine, but I did my best.
I don’t know how many people will read this, but it doesn’t matter. It won’t change anything. It won’t keep people from grilling and drinking. It won’t make people take a second and realize that veterans, who are still very much alive, are suffering and being treated like crap.
I’ve buried a lot of friends, but it’s the ones that made it home who are suffering for making the mistake of living. We’re fucking killing ourselves in the fight to live, but crack open a cold one and let’s fucking celebrate!
It’s easier than opening our eyes and frankly, it’s the American way.