Since 1988, hundreds of thousands of motorcycling U.S. Military veterans from around the country have congregated in Washington for Memorial Day weekend. Their Rolling Thunder roars through Arlington National Cemetery and through the city reminding all of us of their comrades’ sacrifices during the wars Americans have fought.
Most of the guys are around my age, having fought and survived the war in Vietnam. They are MY vets.
Matt McClain’s picture in the Washington Post this morning brought tears to me eyes. Two of MY vets in jeans, black shirts, hats and dark glasses stood on the narrow island dividing north bound and south bound traffic on 23rd Street, heading north, away from Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial. Between them was an Army Pfc. In dress uniform holding a stiff salute.
This has been done before and too few realize what a fete it is to stand at attention, holding a formal salute for several hours. That’s how long it takes for Rolling Thunder to make its way out of the cemetery and up 23rd Street. Two of MY guys left their bikes to support the Pfc. One braced his saluting arm and the big, tattooed guy on the other side was touching his other hand.
I’m so very proud of MY vets because they have been making extraordinary efforts to assure that their brethren at arms returning from the Middle East are welcomed home. MY vets were made to feel ashamed and unwelcome when they returned from Southeast Asia. Most of them were not volunteers as today’s military members are, so the ugly homecomings were even harder on them. Too many of them still suffer following their horrific experiences.
I credit MY vets for inspiring military bigwigs to recognize and treat things like PTSD and traumatic brain injuries as the real afflictions they are. Too often, in the past, only injuries that were visible to the human eye were taken seriously.
My own, late father only revealed a few of the horrors he witnessed in WWII during the last days of his life. I had to press him for details after watching a documentary on WWII in the Pacific, where he served in the Navy. My mother, his beloved wife of 62 years, had the strength and unconditional love to enable him to live a long, mostly happy life. (I say mostly happy because raising five kids wasn’t always a happy experience for any of us.)
Families left behind suffer the most, I think. Receiving word that someone is categorized as Missing in Action is almost worse than learning of someone’s death in war. For years I wore my MIA bracelet in remembrance of an Army Pfc. who was unaccounted for. I reluctantly mailed it in when a project to make a statue out of the metal from all those bracelets was proposed. I never heard anything about it afterwards. If anyone knows what happened to this project, I’d sure like to know.
I just opened an email from a friend wishing me a Happy Memorial Day. What on Earth is happy about this day?! Businesses hold Memorial Day sales in hopes of making more money and others just enjoy a day off.
I wouldn’t call myself a kill-joy, but come on, people -- this is a day to remember our war-dead. Amen.