Tomorrow is Memorial Day.
A few years ago, on Veterans' Day, I went and heard by dad speak at a panel sponsored by Veterans for Peace. He said some pretty powerful stuff. I'm paraphrasing a bit here. One thing he said is that he feels really uncomfortable when people thank him for his military service--he served for two tours in Vietnam--because what he did in Vietnam was to aid and enable an effort to kill a lot of people. Another thing he said is that Veterans' Day is a happy day for him, a day that he celebrates the successes of veterans who have survived against all odds, not only combat but PTSD, trauma, alcoholism, crime, drugs, domestic violence, depression, psychosis, homelessness--so many wolves prowling for the lives of veterans.
But he said something about Memorial Day, too. He said that Memorial Day is a sad say for him, because it's a day that he remembers all his friends and classmates (he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1963) who have died, many of them not in battle but after returning home, driving drunk or committing suicide.
So that is more or less what my dad, who is a veteran, said about Memorial Day. That for him, it is a sad day.
This is not a self-righteous post. Tomorrow, I will eat grill food with some friends, and go hiking with some of the same friends. I will not spend the day in sackcloth and ashes.
But I will think about those mourning losses, those who are torn apart inside, and those who are still alive but have never recovered and perhaps will never recover from their traumatic experiences.
And I will also stop, if sinfully briefly, to remember those victims of war who have died. Those hundreds of thousands of civilians--and yes, even those who took up arms or who bombed or who destroyed--in Vietnam and in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in other places around the world that most of us couldn't find on an unlabeled map.
And I will say a prayer for peace.
And I will ask myself what I have done to honor veterans of war and victims of war, and to work for a more peaceful world, a world in which we do not have to add to the list of people who my dad remembers on Memorial Day.