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Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

Note:  The original title said 2018. That was a typo, not some subtle message. It’s been corrected, though this essay it will likely apply to 2018 as well // Jim

Last night the air was torn apart by the flash of lightning and shook with the crash of thunder.

I slept fitfully and dreamed of war.

This morning the world has gone silent.

Cold rain falls and the sky is the color of gunmetal.

This seems fitting to me. This quiet melancholy day, leeched of color.

For this is the day we Americans are supposed to pause and remember those many who have fallen in service to the United States.

Memorial Day isn’t about honoring veterans.

No, it’s not.

Not the living ones anyway.

Memorial day is about the dead.

This is the day some dutiful Americans visit the graveyards and the military cemeteries to place flowers and flags and to remember husbands and brothers and wives and mothers and sisters and sons and daughters who wore the uniform and came when called and gave the last full measure. My own father lies out there, under the cool white marble of a military cemetery, and today I dearly wish I could stop by for a visit – but it’s a thousand miles away and too far. Dad would understand.

Today is a day when we will lay the wreaths and sound the lonely trumpet and shed a tear and a salute for those comrades long gone.

Today is about the cool gray ghosts who still wander the countless battlefields of America, from Lexington to Antietam, from the Ardennes to the Chosin Reservoir, to Tet, to Basra, to Kamdesh, and all the terrible battles yet to come.

And come they will.

Oh yes, come they will, those new battles, in this endless and unending war.

For that is our nature, we Americans. This is who we have become, a nation of endless war.

Once this day was called Decoration Day in honor of those who died during the American Civil War.

Later the holiday became a day of remembrance for those killed in all conflicts.

Today, Memorial Day supposedly marks the passing of those  who died in uniform, both in peace and in war – but it’s been so damned long since there was a peace, the distinction is moot.

Today is supposed to be about those who gave their lives for freedom and liberty, for justice and right, for the ideal of a more perfect union.

 

But in reality, it’s not the soldiers we remember. It’s the endless war.

 

Do you realize that it’s almost two decades now, now since those terrible days in September of 2001?

Seventeen years of war and death and sacrifice and the supposed Global War on Terrorism.

For our children, this most recent generation, the ones just now reaching the age of reason and awareness, they have never known an America not at war. 

They have never lived in a nation at peace.

Never.

Think on that. No, that’s not a rhetorical statement. Think on that. Think on how this conflict has shaped them, this generation, how it defines their worldview during the most formative years of their lives and how this world will shape the one they create a decade from now for their own children.

For them, this new generation, war has become so commonplace, so ubiquitous, that it’s simply business as usual.

For them, war simply is.

For them, war is just another aspect of American life, like plumbing and electricity and the flow of money, invisible and all around. The dead come home from conflict invisible, hidden, silent, returned to their grieving families in quiet ceremonies far away from the public eye, unlamented and unnoticed by a nation grown jaded and bored with slaughter. America does not see the dead, not until days like this one, when the bodies are safely hidden away under slabs of white marble and fields of green manicured grass and draped in words of patriotism and valor.

For them, this generation, war is normal.

And those of us born in the 1960s? Well we certainly can’t tell them that this is wrong.

We certainly cannot tell this generation war is not the normal state, that normality is peace without conflict. 

See, because we grew up in a nation at war too.  By the time I was seventeen, America had been fighting in Southeast Asia for my entire life.  The media was daily filled with images of blood and death, body counts, mangled and maimed soldiers, of burning helicopters and a terrifyingly incomprehensible enemy.  We were told we would go next, that we had to, or the enemy would come here, to America, and slaughter us all.

Back home? Well, back home, the streets were filled with violence and unrest and it seemed that America was about to tear itself to pieces in a clash of violently opposed ideologies – because no matter how much the enemy might despise us, we hated ourselves, our neighbors, our fellow Americans, even more. 

And how did that shape our worldview, the world we have given to our own children?

For us, war is the normal state of affairs too.

And our parents?

They remember a brief period of idyllic America, the perfect peaceful 1950’s, sock hops and ducktails and white picket fences, providing you lived on the right side of the tracks, providing you were white – while Korea raged unseen and ignored in the background and at home they dug fallout shelters and waited for the Soviet bombs to fall and saw commies hiding in every shadow.

Their parents had World War II, and before that … well, the list goes back a long, long way and perhaps war is a normal state of affairs for us Americans after all.

There are a lot of dead to remember on this Memorial Day.

 

And so it goes, this endless cycle.

 

Today there are those who instead of picnicking  with their familiars, instead of working in their yards or enjoying the day, will be patrolling the dark and dangerous corners of this world.  They’re out there, right now, walking the bitter broken mountains of central Asia. They’re out there right now standing the long watch on and below and above the seas. They’re out there in the fetid festering jungles of South America, in the dry dusty deserts of Africa, in the blistering heat of the Middle East, in lands so remote you’ve never even heard of them – and wouldn’t believe the descriptions of such places if you did.  They are out there right now, as far away as a cold airless orbit high above the Earth and as close as local bases in their own states and the armories of their own home towns.  

Some of these men and women will not live out today.

Some will most certainly come home to Dover Air Force Base in a cold steel box beneath the draped colors of the Stars and Stripes, their war over, their dreams ash, soon to be just another restless ghost in America’s legion of the dead.

Today, there are those who wear the uniform, but can no longer serve – their duty stations are the crowded and forgotten wards of military hospitals around the world. They won’t be working in the yard or grilling out today either. Some will spend the day with family, even if they are unaware of it. 

Soon too their last battle will be over.

Today there are those who no longer serve, no longer wear the uniform, but they still fight. They fight the nightmares of Vietnam and Beirut and Mosul and Firebase Alpha and a thousand other battlefields you’ve never heard of.   They are the walking dead, killed in action only they no longer have the wit to know it and so they haunt the streets of America, the forgotten unseen discarded cold gray ghosts of war and conflict, poisoned by nightmares, by pills and alcohol and poverty, slowly fading away.

And today, of course, there are those who no longer fight, no longer struggle, no longer remember.  They lie entombed in the soil of foreign nations, at Normandy, at Tunis, at the Ardennes, at Brookwood and Cambridge, at Flanders and Lorraine, at Manila, Mexico City, in the Netherlands, the Somme, and many other places whose names most Americans no longer remember or never knew. One hundred and twenty four thousand, nine hundred and nine American servicemen lay interred forever in twenty-four cemeteries on foreign shores and there they will stay, never to return to America.  They were the lucky ones, if you can call it luck, found and honored and laid to rest by their fellows.  Others, well, their bones are myriad and they litter the sea floor beneath all the oceans of the world or are lost in the jungles and deserts on all the world’s continents, their resting places unknown and unremembered. 

Today, here, within the boundaries of the United States, there are one hundred and forty-six national military cemeteries, and more than a million Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Guardsmen lie beneath the cold white granite, my own father among their brave company.  And one day I will join them.

Their battles are long, long over, even if the war still rages on.

They, all of them, came when called, some of their own free will and some not, and did their duty and no one, no one, can ask any more of them.

For them, for all of them, for those who have fallen or will fall in this lousy war, and for all those who have fallen in all the conflicts we’ve fought lo these many years, for those who will fall tomorrow, today raise a glass and give a nod towards the flag.

Remember them.

Remember those cool gray ghosts.

If only for a moment.

117 comments:

  1. Thank you Jim for your service and your father's service. Peace.

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  2. Well said, and every bit truth!

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  3. For them, for you, and all my sisters and brothers in arms:

    Thank you.

    Lucy

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  4. I am 72 y/o and for over 50 years I have said, and believed, "This is who we are". No one listens, or, if the seem to listen, their answer is, "Yes, but what can we do about it?" I think of the fallen and walk on.

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  5. Thanks for this. Well written. Tomorrow is the memorial service for my younger brother, who died last week as a result of prescription painkillers after a fairly routine operation. Nothing to do with combat, but he was a 12 year US Navy veteran (corpsman) and intensely proud of his service. He'll be buried later at the DFW National Cemetery. Gone way too soon, he was only 57. And remembering my nephew, a PTSD suicide victim who was discharged by the Army back in 2004 rather than being properly cared for - before the rise in awareness of PTSD and veterans' suicides. And also remembering my Dad, a Korean War veteran. And friends of mine from my Army service who I lost. Today is a very reflective day for me. Three generations, all of us involved in some war or another. So your piece today really hits home. Peace, brother.

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    1. I will include your fallen family members in my tribute today. May you find comfort and solace in knowing you're not alone.

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    2. Thank you. That's very kind.

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    3. The closest friend I have to a combat casualty is one of those who survived his tour of duty in Afganistan, but did not survive his return home. 3 attempts at the VA for PTSD services, and he died in a single vehicle wreck. I know the pain of a non-combat loss. I hold your nephew in my thoughts.

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  6. Dear blessed Goddess, please don't ever let me forget the price others have paid for my freedom. Peace and blessings to their spirits.

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    1. South Jersey DocMay 31, 2017 at 12:20 AM

      So mote it be.

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  7. "Peace is an idea we have deduced from the fact that there are intervals between wars." (Gwynne Dyer)

    I ran into this quote in the 1980s, on a PBS series entitled, oddly enough, "War." It has never not been appropriate, not in my lifetime.

    We're good at war. We celebrate war. We're not good at peace, or at the consequences of war.

    I will raise a glass and remember those who have served and sacrificed.

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  8. "My own father lies out there, under the cool white marble of a military cemetery, and today I dearly wish I could stop by for a visit – but it’s a thousand miles away and too far. Dad would understand."
    Same here Jim, same here.
    http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/index.html?cemetery=N901

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    1. Mine also, in Arlington National Cemetery but also my Uncle Herschel, wounded in WWII and wheeled to the MASH in a wheelbarrow with his intestines piled on top of him his right arm gone at the elbow and both legs damaged severely. That MASH put him back together and he survived living a full life to the age of 86, everyday a reminder of his sacrifice to us. My cousin J.T. who served in Vietnam with distinction but died at 67 in a care facility as his mental health disintegrated from PTSD. My husband drafted at 18 to several in vietnam, who at 71, still has memories that disturb his sleep. There are so many other family members and friends that have sacrificed so much so we can live. However, I will do everything in my power to keep my grandchildren 21,18, and 17 from becoming part of that sacrifice.

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    2. You can try to keep them away from battle,but if they decide to go,you can't stop them. My only grandson is enlisting in the Army National Guard,and though I wish he didn't,I honor his decision,and wish him the best. My father was proud me when I enlisted back in the early 70's,and honored my decision to serve my country. My mother,on the other hand, was wary of my decision to join. All you can do is love them, and pray they live a long life.

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  9. You have a talent for making me see things as I've never seen them. Your writing makes me stop and think. Thank you.

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  10. It's Memorial Day, time for backyard cook-outs, summer white sales, and trips to the shore. But to me, it is so much more than that. My sister and I were born on Memorial day, not the "Unofficial start of summer", but a solemn day of remembrance. A day of reflection and giving thanks to the brave men and women who gave their lives for us. Yes, we have a cook-out/party, but it has always been a quiet family time for us. Please stop for a moment this weekend and say a quiet Thank You to them, and their loved ones who have sacrificed so much for the privilege of being an American.

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  11. Your words of vivid imagery never fail to move me. Thank you.

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  12. Excellent essay.
    Thank-you.

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  13. Thank you, Jim, not for your service, but for this essay. I remember two grandfathers who served in WWI and pair of uncles, one in the Air Force and one in the National Guard. And, most of all, I remember childhood friends who never came back from Vietnam.

    My thanks to all of them. Rest in peace, guys.

    -Paul Cooper (former QM3/SS)

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  14. Near as I can tell, we're going to make the same d@mn mistakes all over, which is no way to honor the dead.

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  15. This makes me sadder than anything else.

    "...because no matter how much the enemy might despise us, we hated ourselves, our neighbors, our fellow Americans, even more."

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  16. I commented on this day at length at Wonkette, but Jim puts it so damn well. Pretty darn good for some CPO who probably should have held a commission to bring the level of the commissioned up a notch.

    We must remember the fallen, and his point about endless war...too true. We can do better than this. We must.

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    1. Not a CPO, a CWO, commission and everything.

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  17. It is too easy to forget that we have spent so much of the last century at war. No generation has lived through an extended time of peace. So, is war inevitable? As a species, why do we seem so bent on self-destruction? These are rhetorical questions, as the answer to each is complex and reach as far back as the first conflict. What is it that humans fight over - territory? bread? philosophy? power? For each dictator or authoritarian who exerts his (usually a male) power over others, the majority must eventually rise up and say ENOUGH. Sometimes not soon enough to end atrocities. Nuremberg trials weren't a simple case of murder.
    For those who died to preserve our liberties, I am deeply grateful for their sacrifice and their dedication to defend the US Constitution and our allies.
    We must band together as citizens to maintain what our fallen military servicemen and women died to preserve, protect, and defend. The Constitution is only as durable as the present generation, we must always be vigilant to preserve it.

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  18. It is indeed the day to honor those who have given their full measure of service to our nation. Thanks for your powerful tribute.

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  19. Thanks for your comments on this day of memorials. As a veteran, I've spent many hours honoring our dead. I started in high school playing taps for WW I veterans, then on to WW II, then on to Vietnam Nam which was my Era war. When it comes time to honor our nation's veterans, it seems the wars are forever. As a Navy vet, 1966 to 1969 active I don't really want any one to thank me for my service. Instead people should spend that energy to stop this carnage of our youth.

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  20. Today I weep for those who gave their lives for the freedoms we have so often taken for granted. And I will keep fighting for those freedoms they died defending, as best as I understand them and am able.

    Today I will raise a glass and remember those who are gone that I can name. My grandfather, my step-father, my ex-husband, the Army reservist who was a regular at the drug store, the neighbor who let us use his pool, my cousin Matt, and my youngest son's namesake. I will raise a glass to those I can't name, whose lives were first mourned by those I will never know and especially for those who were not remembered. And I will raise one more glass for those who served and lived and those who serve today, knowing that they too may lose some part of themselves in that service. I cannot lessen their sacrifices but I can at least raise a glass and remember them. Salut.

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  21. I believe it to be an honor to read your essay. So much truth and pain encompassed in your words, Thank You !

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  22. Nothing else can be said. Thank you.

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  23. The level of reflection here is devastatingly lacking in the voices who speak the loudest and need it the most. Thank you.

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  24. Thank you Jim Wright. For your service, and for your Father's service.

    And thank you for the eloquent and brilliant way you put thoughts and emotions and reality into words for us.

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  25. I don't party or parade on this day. It's a day of solemn remembrance. My Dad served in the Pacific. He lied about his age to join and the Navy was OK with it. Pop was some months from being legal to drink or vote when the USS Braine sustained devastation from a Kamikaze attack. Over a hundred of his shipmates did not survive. A common story. History made clear that there was a real reason for this war. After those sweet, imaginary fifties, things seemed to change. It seemed as if wars were cooked up just so men who had no other options could go fight, and die. A game that cost more than could be counted and only seemed to benefit some un-named, untouched stockholders. Vietnam. My husband served, another boy off to see about war. He was also too young to fathom the reasons and was grateful to have served safely, but he never encouraged either of his sons in the direction of the military. Pop Served. Jim Served. So many others served. The meaning of the word has changed. I think about the dead and I wonder what the world could have been like if men just stopped agreeing to play this endless, senseless game of war and found a way to serve a cause that did not include death and destruction. I have no answers. I have my suspicions. We should do more with our remembrances.

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    1. Deb, I'm there with you and your thoughts.
      I wonder if this country would know what to do in peacetime any more? It's been so long...
      As long as there is money to be made, there will be war. If it wasn't profitable, I'm sure we would see much less of it. Maybe it wouldn't all end (too many crazy or hate filled people out there), but it would definitely be lessened.

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    2. Also agree with you Deb about solemn remembrance. I've tried explaining that to others; it's a great friend filter. Those who just want to BBQ and drink on this day, bye. Those who recognize the need to at least have a quiet moment, hi.

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  26. My father was a World War II veteran. He fought in the Philippines at the end of the war. We didn't hear many "war stories" since he kept his demons bottled up. He served, he came home to a wife and baby and started farming. We only learned about many of the demons at the end of his life when dementia set them free.
    He didn't join the veterans groups and didn't thank people for their service. He felt that the best way to honor veterans was to try to not create any more.

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  27. Thank you and thanks to the authors of the comments.

    We, the human animal, are good at war. Our earliest writings, of Achilles and Gilgamesh, are about war.

    Have we ever been good at peace?

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  28. For my co-worker's husband, Marine bronze star Vietnam veteran, who killed himself a few months ago. His inner demons finally caught up with him. Everyone knew he was a walking train wreck, including his wife, but no one could stop it. In a way, she was almost relieved when he finally did it so that she could stop dreading the event. I believe he was a casualty of Vietnam as much as his comrades who died there. When will we learn that sending young people to die for old men's egos is pure insanity?!

    My however many greats grandfather left his home in North Carolina on his 18th birthday to fight for the CSA. His first major battle was Gettysburg. His next, the Bloody Angle. Look that up if you have the stomach for horror. His brother died of disease in the camps. His last miitary action was Appomattox. Then he went home to try to live his life. It ended in 1879 or 80 with his apparent suicide by hanging, with his hands tied behind his back. That's a mystery I would like to solve. Pure insanity to send young men to fight for old men's egos.

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  29. Thank you, Jim. This is a remarkable essay, and a tribute to the Fallen, known and Unknown.

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  30. May the Fallen know the peace denied them in this life.

    May the wounded find succor.

    An ole sarge

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  31. In Canada our version of Memorial Day is called Remembrance Day and it occurs on November 11th, with ceremonies at local cenotaphs and two minutes of silent reflection commencing at 11:00 am. (A time technically marking the end of hostilities for WWI, but the day has since come to mean remembering the fallen in all conflicts since.)

    During those moments I acknowledge the sacrifices and reflect on them with gratitude. I also express a deep wish that no more will join their ranks.

    Their lives were the gifts they gave in the service of a better future.

    It saddens and frustrates me that we continue to squander their legacy.

    This November, I will again wish that no more join their ranks.

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  32. Hard to say much else other than "thanks," Jim - especially with tears blurring my vision. Your words carry a message many need to hear...

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  33. Well said Jim, you remember with honesty and respect. I watch, I read and I listen then shake my head in bewilderment. What has happened? They have given so much! I too shall raise my glass of wine tonight in respect for my late husband who spent 25 years in the CAF and all those, my neighbors included who kept us safe. Thank you for your service. May all our fallen soldiers RIP

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  34. Damn, it, Jim. I didn't plan on crying today. But as soon as I read, "cool gray ghosts," my eyes started leaking, and now they don't want to stop.

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  35. Can't Squirrel this one. I cried. Thank you.

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  36. Thank you for describing so accurately my feelings about war.

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  37. Had some of these same thoughts while watching a video shared today by a FB friend... full of surprise greetings to returning soldiers... My response was that this is a great Veterans Day video, but that a Memorial Day video would show families who only got to hug & cry with a coffin or gravesite... So, now I'll watch the best Memorial Day movie I know: "Taking Chance". And pray that my sons will never be pawns for someone else's war.

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  38. Thank you Jim and all who have added their comments. I can think of no better tribute for those we commemorate today.

    The following is by an unknown author,
    carried by Eleanor Roosevelt in her wallet after December 7, 1941 until her death.

    Recounted in All the Gallant Men, by Donald Stratton

    Dear Lord,
    Lest I continue
    My complacent way,
    Help me remember that somewhere,
    Somehow out there
    A man died for me today.
    As long as there be war,
    I must answer
    Am I worth dying for?


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  39. Honest and true, just as you are, Jim. Thank you for these words. Today I remember Leroy Sr., Leroy Jr., Robert, Jerry, Kurt, Reinhardt, Karl, The Brothers, Erwin, Oswald, Robert, Fitz, Brother, Bobby, Jasper, Merrill, and all the men and women of all my lines who served and fought. Please, God, may I be worthy of their lives and deaths.

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  40. Before Vietnam, we didn't have a 'military subculture' that bore all the burdens, the way we do today. Some chose to serve, perhaps as a way to a better life, but still as a choice. Some were drafted and went on to serve--for a single term or service, or until death, or for a full and honorable military career. The draft and draft boards were (as all things in our money-drenched, privilege-burdened 'equal' society) subject to distortions of one kind or another. Some bought or manipulated their way out. But many were plucked out of a life trajectory to get into uniform and risk their lives alongside people they might never have chosen to know. Nowadays, we have too much relegated military service to those who inherit it as a family tradition, choose it as a career path, or choose it as a way out--the random element of soldiers who never meant to be there is no longer present to share the burden. It is too easy for those not part of the tradition, and NEVER AT RISK, to accept a state of neverending conflict. This is wrong. At the very least, we should have a period of national service, with options for non-military service for those not suited or those who object. All of us should be giving our country a couple of years, so that we don't lean on a precious few to serve until they are maimed, mentally ahd spiritually drained by continual deployments, or hardened to lives of violence. Maybe we can't bring back the draft, but couldn't we all do something for our country while we are young, to reignite our devotion to our nation and all its people? Couldn't we?

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    1. And why can't we bring back the draft? Why not?

      I ask this as an old man whose youth was darkened by the draft, and whose future was shaped by the necessity to deal with it. It was horrible, but it offered two great advantages to the United States.

      First, it made the playing field more level. Not completely level. There were always people like Donald Trump who avoided service because of his so-called "foot thing." But for most of us, military service, if only for two years, or six years in the Army Reserve or National Guard, was a shared experience. We shared the misery of basic training. Even if we never served in combat, we saw what it meant to lay down a field of fire from a hilltop. We understood the sheer hell of trying to take such a hill under fire. We shared, most of us, a longing for the end of it.

      And the second reason: when nearly every last mother's son is subject to conscription for war, and therefore to death or maiming, we get more careful about getting into wars, and we are faster to get out of them. No politician wants a thousand gold star mothers raging at his doorstep. I am convinced the Viet Nam war ended sooner that it might have otherwise because it relied on conscripts who didn't want to go, and whose mothers and wives didn't want them to go. The draft got us out of Korea, sooner. Eisenhower won an election by declaring "I will go to Korea." to negotiate a peace. Who has heard a presidential candidate promising to go to Iraq or Afghanistan?

      If we can't get out of a culture of war now, it's because the parade of dead and maimed are of little consequence to those who get us into wars and continue them.

      Restore the draft. Conscription prevents wars, or shortens them.

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    2. While I do agree that drafts can prevent some, and almost certainly does shorten wars.
      The modern battlefield isn't a place for battalions of troops with 12 weeks training anymore.

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  41. Amazing read for every American today

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  42. "Veteran Ben Skardon survived the Bataan Death March that killed thousands of American and Filipino soldiers during WWII. Now, at nearly 100 years" his story was on 60 Minutes. It and your post were really "moving" to me and also help to drive home the message that 'peace should be the law.' Many Thanks!

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  43. Thank you,Jim, for this remarkable and moving essay. Every year on this day, there is a song, or a picture, or comment that usually brings a tear to my eye, but your essay brought tears a flowing. Sometimes it is just good to cry! Thank you

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  44. Just before reading this, I watched an interview with Buffy Ste. Marie about the inspiration of her song "Universal Soldier." I suspect you and she are on similar wave lengths. I have been a pacifist since the mid-60s, but that does not prevent me from respecting those who believe differently. If someone has answered the call to service of their country, they deserve respect and honour, both at the time and carrying on into the future. If they have sustained injuries, whether physical or mental or emotional, they need to have the appropriate services without any Congressman bemoaning the cost. Could we put an end to war? I remain ever hopeful.

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  45. A few of your posts I've read in the year since finding you were powerful enough to move me. This one has me standing still in my kitchen, wiping tears from my cheeks. Hit for a moment with the solemnity of this in a way I haven't quite been before. Fantastic piece. It does what it is supposed to do. Mission accomplished.

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  46. I have expressed this same view for years. I am not in favor of a professional army. It is not asking to much for young men and ladies to give two years of service. I think it would be very beneficial. There are many places this service could benefit not just the military. Work with the homeless, our wildlife, rivers and streams, blighted areas, beaches, parks, forests, state and national parks, our branches of military, and the list goes on and on. Everyone serves with only those unable being exempt.

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  47. Thank you so much, Jim. You have made me think as never before about this day and its significance in the stream of history. My reaction is "so sad," and shame on the one who has so devalued that heartfelt phrase that using it in true sadness now sounds like parody. But it is so sad that human kind ("Kind." How ironic.) has eternally used killing to remedy the transgressions of The Other. Once upon a time I relished thoughts that world conflict could be overcome by expanding circles of love, as taught by the gentle Quakers with whom I associated. Aging has hardened me. War and killing is and ever will be.

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  48. Something about this day is sometimes hard to swallow. I seem to get dust in my eyes, too.... well, honestly, I cry, off and on. Emotions that are hard to deal with.

    Thanks for writing this. Best wishes to you and yours!

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  49. I have been reading your essays for a lot of years. This is the first one that brought tears to my eyes. It should be required reading.
    -Ruth

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  50. For me, the poppy has become the symbol of all our war-dead...

    memoriae/in memory (revision)

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow...

    ~ John McCrae

    along the roadway’s dusty edge
    under the green field’s border hedge

    the poppies blow

    in lines lamenting poets write
    in widows’ dreams through broken nights

    the poppies blow

    on graves, in gardens wild or tamed
    over the unknown and the named

    the poppies blow

    some future day when war is dead
    may no pain shadow petals red --

    where poppies blow.

    ~ L.C. Goodwin

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  51. knoxjohn, cw4 retiredMay 29, 2017 at 1:30 PM

    Good on you Jim, please keep on writing.

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  52. Thank you Mr. Wright. I am not sure I will be able to read this one to my father. You see, I read all of your writings to my father, he is 85, will be 86, June 12th. and is a Navy vet himself. I couldn't even get thru this one, waterfalls coming from my eyes, heart bursting with sadness. But I will, I will read it to him, and kiss him, and thank him. And be so ever grateful that I still can. And be ever so grateful to all who have defended me, and my freedom. Always, and forever. So, thanks, thanks to you too, and your writings.

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  53. Thanks Jim for your meaningful words. My father is among the fallen. Served two tours in Viet Nam, died many years later of prostrate cancer, service connected from exposure to agent orange. He was proud to serve in the US Navy Seabees. I was lucky, my 20 years of Navy service starting in 1975 were served mostly in a time of peace (except for the 1st Gulf War). I dream of a time when we can stop sending out sons and daughters to war. I pray that my granddaughter will know an America at peace.

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  54. Once again, thank you. Your words touch many chords. Mostly, because they ring with truth.

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  55. Thank you for your words, Jim. They are true and hurtful not hurtful enough to change the way of life our nation seems to have adopted. War as profit for a few a neverending stream of money from here to the future. How can it be so hard to embrace a peaceful future are we all that afraid still?

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  56. Yesterday, a friend who is a Vietnam veteran was explaining Memorial Day to some some friends overseas. I cried a bit. I read this essay and I cried a lot. Thank you for a very thoughtful reminder of what is important.

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  57. So many of our holidays have been overtaken by crass commercialism. Thank you for this eloquent reminder of what today is all about.

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  58. Thanks, Jim! For saying exactly what this day is supposed to be about and stir the right feelings with your own perspective through the sacrifice made by many close to you.

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  59. ... That was perfect. Thank you, Jim.

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  60. My nephew deploys tomorrow to the Persian Gulf, it will be his first. He is a yeoman on the USS Nimitz. I hope I never have to remember him on this day

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  61. I pass the cemetery for the Grafton State Hospital here in MA on my way to work everyday. It was a mental institution from ~1904-1972. The people who died and weren't claimed by their families are buried there. There are 14 veterans in that cemetery.
    I went downstairs Friday to find a flag to put out today and couldn't find one. I decided not to buy one and gave the money to a project for Iraq and Afghanistan PTSD sufferers. I thought that was money better spent. I don't need to show my patriotism with a flag or parades. A quiet prayer every morning for the dead and supporting mental health treatment for the living is my patriotism.

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  62. In spite of today being an American remembrance day and me being a German, it made me think of my father, who then freshly drafted as a young man days before his 18th birthday, was designated point on a patrol through a Russian forest on their way to Stalingrad.
    A Sowjet soldier in a hammock up in the trees lobbed a handgrenade at him and it ripped his right arm off at the biceps. Ensuing gunfire hit him through his left hand; luckily for him, a pal of his pulled him out of the line of fire and the rest of his platoon killed the four enemy soldiers, who were obviously engaged in a suicide mission.
    That war was over for my father and he returned to the Vaterland.
    There were now other battles looming.
    In todays world, he would have been diagnosed with PTSD and would have received at least some form of treatment. During the last years of the Reich, those options were luxuries (the word for PTSD then was 'shellshocked' and carried with it the stigma of being 'unmanly").
    He 'toughened' it out, met my mother in 1947 and they had me at the end of 1949. His way of dealing with his trauma was developing a macho personality and becoming wealthy and, as a result, he became a rather unpleasant person. My mother divorced him in '57; he died rich and rather lonely in '91.
    My father was very good-looking, charming, and quite charismatic.

    He was also an asshole.

    Reading Mr.Wright's post today made me think of him for the first time in many years. And I was reminded that not all the long-lasting injuries of war are easily discernible.
    And that war takes a toll on all of us. No matter the nationality or which side we're fighting for.

    So today, for once, I raise my glass to you, Hanns Stuehler.

    Rest in peace.

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  63. Thank You, Chief,
    My father also served in WWII and then in the Tennessee National Guard, retiring as a Sgt Major. He fought the battles in France and was wounded but did recover. He never talked about the war, to many bad memories I guess. He to has been laid to rest far from my present home, but he and my mother are laying side by side and will forever be in my heart.

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  64. Yesterday I found the American Battle Monuments Commission site and began looking at the Memorials around the world. 26 American military cemeteries and 27 federal memorial sites. Beautiful places in memory of deadly events.
    We have friends around the world who fought at our side, and they remember too.

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  65. Yes, America is now in a generational war - a 10 year old in 2001 is now fighting the war his father fought then. If you do not have a family member or friend in the military, civilian life goes on as normal, no shortages, no rationing, no pain, no sacrifice. There is no exit strategy.

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  66. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying, but it seems to me that there is one perfect way to honor our fallen brethern:

    Stop making more of them.

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  67. Well written, Jim, and all too true.

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  68. Excellent essay, and as a pacifist, I am reminded of a saying from my Brethren Church: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" What if we taught our young people to respect all life, no matter the color of the skin or their own religious beliefs? What if those who believe in God also believed that all people are from one Creator and should be loved as such? Could we stop shooting and bombing each there then?

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  69. Thank you for this thoughtful piece. While my family members made it out alive, they are still haunted by the memories. May my children grow up to know a United States that is a country of peace, kindness, and open to all that want to share its bounty.

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  70. Well written, brought tears to my eyes. Thanks Jim, for sharing!

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  71. I'm ending Memorial Day reading your tribute to all of our fallen service men and women, and I am remembering. My grandfather and my cousin are buried at Arlington Cemetery. I visit once or twice a year. If your dad is also at Arlington, I would be honored to visit him on your behalf. Thank you, Chief, Sir, for your heartfelt words, and for reminding us to pause in our busy lives and remember, even if only for a moment.

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  72. As someone who got clobbered in OIF '06-'08 (WIA 2007 - and it was a very near-run thing), I admit to often having mixed feelings and/or melancholy on Memorial Day. I knew 11 Soldiers (I served in the Army 20 years until retirement) who were KIA in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since I held two MOS's, it is possible there were others.

    So on Memorial Day, I hoist a jar and reflect on how lucky I was to have survived when so many didn't.

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  73. I was born in the mid 60s grew up watching Vietnam on TV every night. Playing with G.I. Joe and army men. I had many toy guns, and I started shooting real guns when I was 3. My fathers people are farmers.

    My uncle was drafted and went to Vietnam in 68, came back in 71. My father fought his draft notice, my grandmother was not going to send another son to Vietnam, the war ended before my father's appeals ran out.

    I envisioned a military career for myself, I wanted to be a pilot at 5, but I had a stigmatism in one eye. Thought about the Rangers after that. My great uncle was a Marine in the Pacific, he encouraged me to look at the Marines.

    I became politically aware in high school and though I still considered joining and walked into a recruitment office once and sat down to talk with a sergeant, but I decided there was no way with Ronald Reagan as president. So it never happened.

    I think about the kids today, how they are being shaped by endless war. I watch the shows that are geared towards our youth, like The Flash and Marvels Agents of Shield. They have one thing in common, problems always get solved by men with guns, they are always the final arbiter of how things go down, and someone always dies. Movies like Godzilla do much the same thing, military even picks up part of the tab on such movies. Part of the rather open militarization of our young people, that I myself experienced as a kid. The idea of this conditioning being quietly implanted in the minds of kids disturbs me greatly.

    My daughter recently considered joining the military, I tried to be supportive, but I also reminded her that we are at war, and she could be sent to war zone. And that war changes people, like I believe it changed my uncle.

    He was a rather introverted guy quiet soft-spoken intelligent a little neurotic. He came back the kind of guy who would jump up on the bar and challenge anyone to fight him. His temper was hair trigger. Him and my father had been getting in fights since they were little, but after uncle came back he started doing dad permanent damage in these fights. They were still getting into physical altercations well into their 50s.

    My uncle destroyed a lot of cars falling asleep at the wheel after coming home from a night of drinking, eventually doing himself permanent damage. Sometimes he would be chased back to the farm by a column of state troopers. He would drive to the nearest cornfield, jump out of his car and disappear into it so he couldn't be arrested.

    Once he and I went out to the barn to test a 226 pistol I had bought but never fired. I took a few shots and handed it to him. He burned off 10 rounds in quick succession not particularly aiming at anything, the look in his eye when he was shooting, made me want to take the gun away from him. He threatened me with a weapon once, I don't know if he would've done me harm, but I knew he was capable.

    He died of cancer more than 15 years ago, I don't know if it had anything to do with Vietnam, but he was exposed to agent orange.

    Rod never talked about the war with me, though I tried to get him to do so. In the basement of my grandparents house where my uncle had an apartment when he came home, I found a stack of letters that he wrote to my grandmother while he was in country. I read them all.

    I miss my uncle, I always liked him. I don't know if my decision not to go into the military was the right one, but I decided at some point that I didn't want to do anybody any harm if I could possibly avoid it. And I didn't want to be used as cannon fodder in some meaningless war by some war mongering president.

    Now we have a presidents who go to war just because they feel like it, George W. Bush in Iraq for example. Who knows what kind of wars Donald Trump will get us into. But I definitely don't want my daughter in the military with that imbecile as commander-in-chief. I am genuinely afraid of what he is going to get us into and what it will mean for the people in our military who have already been run ragged by endless war.

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    1. I can't imagine anyone fighting in a war started by Donald Trump. The old song from Woodstock comes to mind again. One,two,three,what are we fighting for? I honor those who have died in passed wars especially those who didn't understand the reason they were there.

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  74. War poet
    I am the man who looked for peace and found
    My own eyes barbed.
    I am the man who groped for words and found
    An arrow in my hand.
    I am the builder whose firm walls surround
    A slipping land.
    When I grow sick or mad
    Mock me not nor chain me;
    When I reach for the wind
    Cast me not down;
    Though my face is a burnt book
    And a wasted town.
    (Sidney Keyes, 1922-1943)

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  75. https://www.facebook.com/chrischandler.org/posts/10154397467302016

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  76. Thanks, Jim. Always appreciate your perspective; I hadn't thought about living through war of some type since my birth. This posting has been added to my yearly reading, and to my 10-year old's also.

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  77. "Poppies for young men, Death's bitter trade. All of those young lives betrayed...All for a Children's Crusade." Lines from Sting's song, "Children's Crusade", about British involvement in WWI, but the application is universal.

    I'm not a starry-eyed idealist, but so many of the wars we've been fighting seem to exist to protect our economic interests (oil) or support the military-industrial complex. I'm not wrinkling my nose in disgust here, I used to work for a military contractor, and we do actually need a military-industrial complex. But fighting wars for the sake of keeping it going seems out of line. Better to fund the R&D and then let them ramp up when there's a REAL reason to fight a war.

    So we fight trumped-up wars, and we kill all manner of civilians, who don't matter because they're brown. We ship our own dead home in flag-draped caskets, as though that might mean something to them...if they're actually physically dead. We ship our living dead or half-dead home to deal with inadequate health care and a host of war-induced demons in their own minds.

    I am not particularly proud to be an American at this moment.

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  78. I had to think about this essay for a little while after reading it. Then get out of bed at two in the morning because I couldn't stop thinking about it, before posting my thoughts. I'm the son of, on the one hand, a father who served in the Pacific in '44-'45, and on the other, a mother who was one of five teenage daughters of a Methodist minister growing up in Bavaria during WWII. I grew up hearing - on the rare occasions when they were in the mood to talk about it - stories of the war, told from both sides.

    During those terrible years, our nations were indisputably, wholly at war. The entire population of the United States may not have swarmed down the ramps of LCIs onto the beaches of Normandy & Okinawa but, from the USO to war bond drives, from ration books to Rosie the Riveter, from Victory Gardens to air raid drills, our nation was at war, and every person old enough to comprehend the talk around the dinner table or coming from the radio knew it. Every minute of every day.

    America hasn't lived through two decades of war. America didn't go to war in 2001. 30,000 men, women & kids who can't take a legal drink out of a Budweiser went to war. America got a tax break & proceeded to coin the term 'McMansion' in one of the largest housing booms in its history, bought SUVs and Starbucks frappuccinos & had its economy driven off a cliff by Wall Street power brokers in search of larger yachts.

    This generation of people who've never known their country at peace, how many hours of the day do they even donate to thinking about the war in Afghanistan? Minutes? Seconds? Is it something that the reporters talk about on CNN in the background while they thumb through their Facebook feed looking at memes of cats? How many Americans could pick out Kandahar Province on a map? Properly spell Kandahar? Tell you on any given day who's in control of the place? Know how many people died for control of it?

    We hear our politicians talk of supporting our troops in one breath, and in the next debate the whether we can afford to provide them with needed healthcare, because our millionaires and billionaires need yet another tax break. I wonder if we would still be at war in Afghanistan & Iraq had our leaders been honest enough to tell Americans that we were going to war, and this is what it's going to cost; this is what we are going to need from each and every one of you. However, a small portion of a generation of people with the courage and honor to volunteer to serve are going to pay the cost of the conflict today, and people like my 13 year old son are going to get handed the bill and pay throughout their adult lives. And probably their children too.

    I believe that looking out for our nations 'interests' should be the purview of our President, our Congress, and our State Department, and we pay them handsome salaries to do just that. I believe our military should be responsible for driving existential threats to our nation back into the sea, rather than as a tool for securing interests that our leadership haven't the conviction or gumption to ensure. I would argue that, if the cost is a permanently-engaged military, the interests that we are pursuing may not be in America's best interests. I hold our men & women in uniform in high esteem for their courage, for their service. I don't know the best way to honor their sacrifices, but I know for damned sure it isn't by doing what we've been doing for the past 20 years. What we've been doing bothers me in a very fundamental way; it runs counter to what I've been taught my whole life that Patriotism should be. And it took reading Jim's essay to bring that into proper focus. Although this past holiday wasn't about living service members, thank you for your service, Jim. And to those who have given their full measure of devotion to this country, may we re-learn how to appreciate & honor them.

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  79. Meanwhile Ivanka suggests champagne popsicles. Someone should send her a link to this essay and let her suck on these thoughts instead.

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  80. I don't disagree with your point about America's "endless wars" but it does allow me to raise a point regarding one group of veterans who served honorably but are nevertheless not eligible for VA benefits.

    Under current law, VA recognizes specific wartime periods to determine eligibility for VA benefits. Theses periods stretch from the "Mexican Border Period" in 1916, through the still on-going "Gulf War" which (for purposes of the statute, anyway) began on August 2, 1990.

    There have been a few gaps between these periods of eligibility, most recently from the end of the "Vietnam Era" on May 7, 1975, and the onset of the Gulf War. It was during this period that our nation transitioned from having a military draft to the current "All Volunteer" Armed Forces. The men and women who stepped up and enlisted stood ready to defend our nation against "all enemies, foreign and domestic", and they made the transition to our modern military force a success. They suffered all of the hardships of serving in far-away places under sometimes adverse and dangerous conditions and yet, if their active service was wholly within the "gap period", they are NOT eligible for VA benefits. Hell, they aren't even eligible for membership in the American Legion!

    That just doesn't seem right - these men and women made the same sacrifices and faced the same perils as those of us who served exclusively in non-combat areas during the earlier conflicts, yet we are eligible for benefits and they are not.

    I realize this is off-topic to the theme of your essay and I apologize, but maybe when Veterans' Day rolls around you'll find a way to recognize this outcast group, most of whom are still with us.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

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    1. Jim, can you delete this post for me, please. I fact-checked myself and discovered some major inaccuracies in my post. I definitely don't want to mislead any veterans who may be eligible for benefits contrary to what I wrote. Thanks.

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  81. Lest we forget.

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  82. "...for in my Opinion there never was a good War, or a bad Peace."
    --Ben Franklin, Letter to Josiah Quincy, Sr., 11 September 1783. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-40-02-0385

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  83. Well said, sir. For what it's worth, every year my website Zeitlangers.com sees a traffic spike on Memorial Day. This year it was bigger than usual. Almost ten times the number of average daily hits. Some folks took the time to remember, pay respects.

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  84. Yes, I remember. My Dad, who came back from WWII deafened and took Dalmane to sleep for the rest of his life. His outbursts of rage that nobody understood. More clearly, I remember Vietnam. Waiting with dread for my brothers to be called. The shouts of "baby killers!" and the horrors that were quietly reported on the news. Mostly, I remember the man I married in '79. A Vietnam vet with a clouded mind and an addiction to Heroine. I watched the slow, relentless fade of his mind and spirit. Love does not conquer all. I don't know where he is or if he's alive. Sometimes I think I see him on the street, but it's just another ruined "baby killer". Yes, I remember.

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  85. Superb, as usual. However, "leached" of color, not "leeched".

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  86. I passed my entire Coast Guard career without entering a combat zone. Nothing more dangerous than the sea ever tried to kill me. Nonetheless, no matter where you go in the Coast Guard, there will usually be a little brass plaque, with names on it of those the sea has succeeded in killing. I have served with a few of those who bore those names. And I think of them now and again each year, on Memorial Day and others. Especially if the sea has been in a foul mood.

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  87. It's wonderful that we have the internet. It's a singularity that lets messages like this travel freely without being censored or buried. It's a tool that can unite us. The way to honor our heroic dead is to pick up their beliefs and carry them forward, and with the internet, we shall and we will.

    I enjoyed this article and agree with it. I'm sending it to a "mind-weave" (credit to R. A. Lafferty's novel "Fourth Mansions") I belong to, that we call sub.intelligitur, "that which is known though not spoken about". We're a collection of readers, writers, thinkers and immaginers who like to share. We're getting started on Facebook, circulating ideas we think are interesting and constructive, rejecting whatever we feel is the opposite. With our collective identity, we can express ourselves without needing to waste time fending off personal attack. Yes, that strategy can be abused, but it's effective counter to "divide and conquer" strategists. As time allows, we may expand into a web page and a moderated blog.

    If you think we're on a good track, you're welcome to join or post to our Facebook group, and/or friend Sub.intelligitur. Thank you.

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  88. Our generation grew up seeing the Vietnam war on the news. My son has grown up with the current quagmire, another generation for whom, as you said, "war simply is."

    And yet I see a huge difference. Those of us who grew up during the Vietnam conflict were the last generation who lived with the war, who saw the horrors on the evening news, who saw the rows of caskets coming off the planes on CBS and heard the statistics of the killed and wounded soberly recited daily. There was nothing abstract or detached about it for us, and that led to questioning about what the hell we were doing there and whether we were accomplishing anything worth the price a generation of young men continued to pay.

    When the next major conflict came along, our politicians and military had learned their lesson. The press was not permitted to show the carnage. The dead and wounded returned late at night, with only their families permitted to be present, and no photographs published of the events. Unless family or friends were directly involved, the lives of civilians were, by careful manipulation, able to move along with scarcely a ripple to indicate that we were, indeed, at war. And that has meant, among other things, that the people who have the money to influence decision making haven't been directly affected much at all - because it is the disadvantaged, for the most part, who use the military as a way to get training to find a way out of their current situation. Very few Gold Star Parents are millionaires.

    I wonder if we'll ever learn.

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