Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day - 2010

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

It is Memorial Day weekend.  There are flags on new graves again this year, graves of men and women who did not imagine themselves dead as a result of combat this time last year.  New American martyrs who last year hoisted a cold one to those who could no longer join them but with whom they are now forever joined.  Before the end of this weekend there will be newly killed Americans to remember next year.  As ever was.

I always think of Larry Swarbrick, my friend the gentle giant, on Memorial Day.  He was killed in Vietnam, in a particularly mean way, forty years ago this coming August, ambushed in some God-forsaken place called Thua Thien Province.

You didn't know him.  Most of us alive today were then yet to be born.  I know almost no one who remembers him.  But I remember.  I hope I always will.  Allow me to introduce him:

If you were there, you know.

As happens every year, some will wish me a Happy Memorial Day.  I no longer take umbrage.  They care, at least enough to know that there's something about this day that should prompt them to say, well, something.  To someone.  Maybe to anyone who once wore the uniform.  You know, the uniform that most Americans have declined to wear. 

Barack Obama:  Didn't serve.  Claimed his uncle helped liberate Auschwitz in 1945.  Problem is, Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.  Oops.  Claimed his grandpa enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor.  Nope, he didn't.  Claimed the same grandpa "marched in Patton's army."  Nope, didn't.  Oops and oops. 

Joe Biden:  "I didn't serve in Vietnam.  I don't want to make a Blumenthal mistake here." -- Jokingly, at Walter Reed Army Hospital this past May 25.  He didn't serve anywhere else, either.  The joke was on the patients. 

Bush 43:  Served in the reserves and without note. 

Dick Cheney:  "I was otherwise occupied."

"That Bill Clinton went to great lengths to avoid the Vietnam-era draft, that he used political connections to obtain special favors, and that he made promises and commitments which he later failed to honor, are all beyond dispute."  Snopes. 

Bush 41:  Served with honor in combat in WWII. 

Reagan:  Enlisted, then commissioned, honorable stateside service in WWII. 

Jimmy Carter:  Served with honor in a boomer. 

John Kerry:  I admit to a bias against, but he served honorably in combat.  I respect him for that and I do not question the nature of his service.

Even Elvis served, and with honor, back when it was compulsory and expected of all able-bodied men. He was otherwise occupied too, and he could have avoided serving.  Unless, that is, you believe that mega-stars can't buy their way out of most anything or that Col. Tom Parker didn't really have any pull in Tennessee.

I was otherwise occupied too, but I served.  My day of honor is November 11, not Memorial Day.  You can give me a brief nod of thanks then if you must, but not this weekend.  Please, not this weekend.  This weekend is for Larry Swarbrick, for Chance Phelps, for my dad.

Memorial Day is also for Sgt. Ed Rivera, although he didn't know it.  Sgt. Rivera died last Tuesday, May 25, at Bethesda Naval Hospital, of wounds he received at some God-forsaken place called Contingency Outpost Xio Haq, Afghanistan.  The same May 25, remember, that Joe Biden was making jokes about his own non-service just a few miles away.  Biden laughing, Rivera dying.  Could anything better illustrate our remove from the suffering of men and women who are giving so much for us?

Thank you Larry, Chance, Dad, Ed.  You gave all.  I will remember you this weekend. 

* * * * * 

Civilians seldom understand that soldiers, once impressed into war, will forever take it for the ordinary state of the world, with all else illusion.  The former soldier assumes that when time weakens the dream of civilian life and its supports pull away, he will revert to the one state that will always hold his heart.  He dreams of war and remembers it in quiet times when he might otherwise devote himself to different things, and he is ruined for the peace.  What he has seen is as powerful and mysterious as death itself, and yet he has not died, and he wonders why. -- Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War

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