To Absent Companions

memorial day

I normally write in order to intersperse humor with history. Today is not one of those posts. Memorial Day is a day of remembering all American troops who have passed, whether they were fighting on the shores of Normandy in 1944 or handing out pens at Doha in 2004. They all deserve a modicum of respect, as they all have done something few others would do- volunteer their lives for their country. When some hear that, they take it literally; however, those years spent in the military you will never get back, good, bad or indifferent. #RememberTheGoodTimes

Veterans tend to treat this holiday with an almost religious connotation. In fact, some sociologists refer to days like Memorial Day and Veterans Day as a “civil religious holiday,” or a day that is not associated with any single religion or viewpoint. Memorial Day spawned from a variety of different origins. Soldiers’ graves have long been decorated in an act of remembrance since time immemorial; however, the South during the Civil War are the first recorded in the US to do so on a specific day annually. Originally referred to as “Decoration Day,” it began to take on the more formally recognized “Memorial Day” in 1868 and replaced “Decoration Day” after WWII. Memorial Day became the official federal name in 1967 and was assigned as the last Monday of May in the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Why? Because that way there were at least four permanent three-day weekends on the books. Unfortunately, they did not foresee those days becoming retail holidays as well. #FirstSaleOfTheSummer

There are some veterans who get angry that many civilians treat Memorial Day as another paid day off and have forgotten what the day means. #ChillOut To that, I say that they need to step back and look at it objectively. When I was in, Memorial Day weekend was an almost guaranteed 3-day weekend. Those who were sober enough by Monday morning would go to the local veteran’s cemetery to plant some flags or drop some coins on headstones. By late morning, the beer and liquor was acquired, food was found and we would barbecue. Did we “forget the meaning of Memorial Day?” No. We did exactly as the fallen would have done if they were still with us- kick back with a beer, eat some burnt hot dogs, and try their best to not be standing in front of the 1SGT’s desk the next morning.

Personally, Memorial Day means so much more. Due to injuries sustained while in the army, I had to get out in 2002. I didn’t get to deploy with my fellow soldiers that I had trained with, and instead had to watch from the sidelines. There is a website you can go to see the lists of the troops who have passed in the Global War on Terror, many in Iraq and Afghanistan. ( I have always intended to go to that website on Memorial Day and scroll through the thousands of names to see if anyone I served with is on there. Up until now, I have never brought myself to do it, as to see it, makes it real. If I see their picture, I can read about how they died, where and when. Up until now, I have not brought myself to go to that site.

I do know of one person that I served with who passed, and that is a loss I do not take lightly. Staff Sergeant Herlem was an NCO that I served with while I was stationed at Camp Howze, ROK from 1999-2000. He had a quick wit and he dealt with everything in stride. He never seemed to get furious over things that happened, but rather just dealt with them calmly. He was a model NCO, and I don’t recall a single person who had anything bad to say about him. The Earth is a lesser place for his passing.

I still have not gone to look at those lists. I’ll admit it, I am terrified of what I will find there. Right now, at this moment, Butler, Ski, Friddle, Crane, Tuave and everyone else are still alive. Maybe they are looking forward to going to a barbecue Monday. Maybe Ski is making some more strawberry vodka in his bathtub. Maybe Tuave is… I dunno, doing Tuave stuff like lifting cars and throwing refrigerators. #TrueStory #SamoansAreAwesomeSappers

So, for another year, I am going to pass on looking at the lists. I am content in thinking that all of the people I served with are alive and well, and not knowing with any certainty what become of them. I would very much like to reconnect with some of them, but I prefer not to know if they have passed.

To those who have, lets lift a glass, remember them at their best, and wish them well wherever they may be in the afterlife.


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