We always went to the cemeteries on Memorial Day. My Dad's mother, grandmother and uncle, all buried at Greenwood, the famous Brooklyn burial ground. Then we'd pile back into the Packard and go on to Evergreen, where his father and father's father's graves are. We'd tend the grave, note how much more sunken, leave a geranium or flag, maybe take a photo or two. At some point we'd get to my Uncle's house in Flatbush and have a meal and that would be where the discussions about the Wars came up.
Uncle Bert served in the Army in WW1, with the 69th Division, NY's "Fighting Irish". He worked for HQ, bicycling around France, delivering maps and documents to the field operators and operating short wave radios at the ripe old age of 19. Though he was MIA for several weeks and turned up in a hospital with mustard burns all over him, he was otherwise somewhat unscathed. Dad served in the Air Force in WW2, but being so old at that point (36) he stayed stateside, in supply operations out of Orlando, Fla. My mother also served in the Women's Marine Reserves, stationed in the Pentagon, with the horrific job of compiling and sending home the personal effects of those killed. And my 3 older brothers enlisted in the Army in the 1960s; Johnny went to Germany, Tommy to Korea, Billy to VietNam. I was and am still, the only one in generations not to have served. That would've been different if my friend Patty-Atty hadn't become pregnant. We were in the process of joining the Air Force on the buddy plan when the rabbit died.
I have a built-in reverence for soldiers and veterans. I have lived with the former soldier, the soldier in an active war, the shell-shocked returned soldier. My childhood friends had brothers and even sisters in Vietnam. We watched Eyewitness News every night, searching the jungle footage just in case. We looked for letters, sent packages, missed them at holidays, talked about them in the schoolyard, brought things they sent home to our Show and Tells. I was particularly attached to a silk "Sister" pillow sham with yellow fringe and a jewelry box my brothers had sent me. Not only were they from my brothers, they were rare beautiful things from a foreign land. When we knew they were coming home on leave, we'd tear up a bedsheet, write "Welcome Home!" on it and hang it out the front windows. There was even a kinship among the youngers at home. If two officers in dress walked up a street in the neighborhood, every kid knew it and what it meant, and thanked God if it wasn't your door they were headed to. Kids with olders in the service may be vile enemies until those moments. But the next day at school we checked that we were all present and accounted for.
While I have my opinions of war, especially unnecessary and unjustified ones, that never changes how I feel about soldiers and vets. I'm grateful and proud of them, respect their call to duty to the nation, and brag about my brothers' and parents' service at every opportunity. In fact, my sister-in-law is just finishing her tenure as Post Commander of a Legion Post next month. She did a helluva job, in spite of some nasty grumpy old men, and is going on to a higher position. She's an Air Force vet. Brag, brag.
And so I feel no conflict in criticizing our government, how our military is run, what they make our soldiers go thru nor how crappily they've been treating our vets. It all sucks. This invasion and occupation sucks. I hate everything about it. But not the soldiers. In most cases, they're just regular people doing what they have to do, what they swore to do, what their country insists they do. I'm proud of them for making that sacrifice of time, money, comfort, their homes and families. They deserve my respect, they get it. But I don't want them to sacrifice their lives and sanity in this present war. I want them all home. Now. Yesterday. President Obama, end this insanity.
It's Memorial Day. Honor the fallen, remember them, comfort the grieving. If you can, adopt a soldier. They need pens, plain stationery and baby wipes pretty badly over there.
And if anybody comes across an Army "Sister" pillow sham with yellow fringe, please let me know. I wore the original out long ago and would really love to have one again.
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