Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day: Personal Reflections

Memorial Day - among other this is Penny's, my oldest daughter's birthday. Perhaps this is why the day has not been, for me, a day of sadness, or proud sadness, as it might be and is for others.

But there is, I believe, another reason as well - and that is June 3d, which of course comes hard on May 30th. On June 3, 1960, my mother's father, Joe Logler, died and he was the one person in our family that made me feel like I was not adopted. A Yankee fan, as am I and I think have been since and because of him. He gelled for me as he did for my mother. He was her hero and so he became mine too.

Then on June 3, 1967, my older brother, Charlie, was killed in action in Vietnam, 7 years to the day of my grandfather's death. Charlie did not have to go into the Marine Corps as he had been accepted to grad school and would have been deferred had he gone there. But, as Charlie said, his country needed him.

But beyond Penny's birthday and June 3d, there is what happens on Memorial Day, how "We the People" celebrate it. It is, we are told, the day to remember those who gave what Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion" to this wonderful land, to this nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." This is a good thing to do. But is it enough?

For some of us - maybe for all of us - it is not enough because it is not honest enough. And without this honesty, we have wounds that cannot heal. We remain "dis-eased." It is comforting to think that when we send soldiers into battle we are doing an honorable thing, just as it is comforting to think that when people don our military uniforms they become honorable. But deep down, in all of us, we know that while comforting, these thoughts are myths. We can pretend we do not know this, but we do as is revealed when the dishonesty reappears and cannot be ignored, as it did recently.

Memorial Day is or could be a day, a good day, to embrace such honesty by honoring those who deserve it, the wounded among us who, like my brother Charlie, heard and heeded JFK's call to "ask what you can do for your country" without realizing what this would mean in Vietnam, without realizing that that war might take their honor from them by compelling them to violate those principles "We the People" hold most dear. As a result of circumstances beyond their control, soldiers were invited to commit indefensible acts, acts that were and are traumatic because they seem to be unspeakable in their inhumanity, in their senselessness, in their meaninglessness.

We need to be honest with ourselves to recognize that these soldiers were betrayed, especially by those with authority. Such honesty, especially if communalized, would go a long way toward healing our wounded, toward healing ourselves for we are wounded too. Such honesty does not devalue what our soldiers did. Rather, it recognizes their honor while acknowledging what we all know, deep down, that this was not our finest hour, that our leaders do not act honorably merely by sending women and men into battle.

This way the wounded - all of us - would hear what we need to hear to be healed: "Yes, we are sorry for your wounds, for your loss, especially as they were un-necessary. But we are proud too, proud of your sacrifices, proud of your devotion, proud that you remained faithful to Lincoln's challenge that 'a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.' You were our best even when we were not at our best. Job well done - be at peace.'"

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