From the PN Archive… Thoughts about Memorial Day…
Memorial Day is a rough day for me. It’s a day of remembering.
Remembering can be a curse when you’ve spent years trying to forget. It’s even worse when you get mad at yourself for not being able to remember. It’s strange that you forget so many things you want to remember and remember so much that you really want to forget.
I spent 11 months and 20 days in sunny Southeast Asia. I came back physically whole. By the Grace of God, good training and just plain pure dumb luck I suffered no more than a hearing loss, some scrapes, shrapnel wounds, and 40 years of mixed blessing memories.
I have been a good husband to my wife, a mediocre father to my daughter and a reasonably successful employee to my employers over the years. With these results I consider myself as doing better than the average bear when compared to many of my fellow veterans. The Grace of God and luck are still with me.
Memorial Day is not a day for self-evaluation or selfish thoughts. So I turn my remembrances to other people, places and things.
I remember heat. Heat that kept you from getting a full breath for weeks. Heat that sapped your strength so that you were beyond exhaustion after a minor exertion. Heat that made you tired and kept you from sleeping. Heat that made you sweat buckets. Heat that made you freezing cold at 70 degrees.
I remember lush green mountains that always seem to go up and not down. I remember red earth that was sticky enough to glue a deuce and a half in place, slippery enough to make it impossible to stand on and dusty enough to choke you into a coughing fit like a bad cigar.
I remember rice paddies. They could get you killed or save your life. Dikes stop bullets but can leave you exposed if you’re dumb enough to walk on them. The water smelled of feces but was better than not drinking at all.
I remember rain. Rain that broke the intolerable heat that never stopped. Rain that was gentle as silk or as stinging as a nest of bees. Rain that let you get a good clean shower and rotted your feet till they bled.
I remember the sun. The sun that created the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. The sun that you couldn’t look at if you ever wanted to see again. The sun that you could feel without touching it.
I remember a moon that shone so bright you could read a map by it. I remember moonlight dancing on foliage that made you see nothing one minute and imagine a host of slinking VC the next.
I’ll never forget the colors of an explosion close at hand. The white center bleeding out to a yellow ring surrounded by black rolling smoke was both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
I remember the orange and green tracers dancing lazily through the night while I prayed that none came to roost on me. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of the gunships circling at night dropping flares and firing tracers to protect us when we were surrounded by the enemy.
But above all this, I remember people. Faces, personalities and human events still crowd my days and nights with pleasure and pain. I can remember entire conversations and events in explicit detail. I cannot remember the names of more than a few and I don’t know why. Shouldn’t this be the other way around?
I remember the parting face of a Huey jock, who took an RPG in the nose 100 yards after he lifted off from dropping me in a clearing. He had a picture of his wife and year old daughter taped to the windshield. He said they were his good luck. I remember the quiet calm of many of my team members who were badly wounded. They kept assuring me that everyone would be OK. All of this while we filled them with enough morphine to kill a horse because we knew they would never survive the slick ride back to the MASH unit.
Of the hundreds I met and knew I kick myself for remembering so few. Especially on this Memorial Day when I feel I should be able to remember each and every one. This is their day. I will not spoil it by forgetting even one of their number.
God help me, I will remember. From this day forth I will carry their memory and spirit with me as a living memorial to their sacrifice and dedication to God, country, duty and honor.