I wrote this a couple days ago and posted it, but then took it down. Haven’t felt very confident in the last week. Well, here it is again, with some edits:
I was born in March 1977. That makes me an 80’s kid. I wasn’t officially a teenager until 1990. I could be wrong, but it’s my belief that most children of the 80’s grew up hearing about the Vietnam War. It wasn’t something that was taught in school. We heard about the war because our parents talked about it, often among themselves or with friends and relatives while the kids were playing in the background.
Uncle Gary served with the Navy in Vietnam. He was in the Army too, before his Naval career, but I don’t think the Army sent him to Vietnam.. While in the Navy, he was stationed in Da Nang–I think it was Da Nang, anyway– where he built bridges. I always saw Gary as a sort of legend, probably because he was my mom’s brother and I heard a lot about him. I didn’t hear about any action that he might have seen, but I remember Mom talking about the letters he’d sent home.
There’s this story that I haven’t forgotten. When my mom was a kid, she was sitting on the porch outside the house her family was living in. A man in uniform showed up. Mom thought he was a police officer and told him her parents were in the house. The man went in and everyone started hugging him..
That was Gary, home after his tour in Vietnam.
The last time I saw Gary alive was when he was moving out of the building where we each had an apartment. He saluted me, I returned the salute. I think he knew how much of a military-wannabe I was and how much I looked up to him.. He died shortly after he left. I think it was a stroke. 2001 or 2002..
Gary had PTSD. I heard that he only talked about the war when he was drunk. In the last couple years of his life, he’d had a serious case of what looked like Parkinson’s disease. He could barely talk and his hands were always shaking. When we were living in the same building, I visited him a lot. We’d drink beer and watch TV.
Memorial Day isn’t so much about those who served. That’s what Veteran’s Day is for. Memorial Day is for those who died while serving the country. But I think on Memorial Day, we tend to think of everyone we know who served whether they died in war or not, perhaps because they were all willing to make the sacrifice. They all joined, knowing they could be sent to war.
I remember seeing a Memorial Day parade (It might have been a Veteran’s Day parade, but I feel more strongly that it was a Memorial Day parade.) that one of my dad’s cousins was marching in. Dale, like Uncle Gary, had been in the Navy and served in Vietnam. That was probably in the late-eighties when I saw that parade. At the time, I didn’t fully understand and was probably more fascinated by the fact that Dale was a Vietnam vet.
But now I think Dale and the guys he was marching with were marching to honor those like a cousin of my mom’s who died in Vietnam, a boyfriend of one of my aunt’s who died in Vietnam, and all those who gave their lives in Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and any other war, no matter how big or small, that America had fought.
No matter what your political leanings are, or if you agree or not with one conflict or another that America is or has been involved in, you should acknowledge that without people willing to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard our nation would not survive.