Thursday, May 25, 2006

Memorial Day....I Remember

In 1982, as a bright-eyed young Army paratrooper, I went to Washington, D.C., with a fellow trooper for the weekend. The Vietnam Veterans War memorial was about to be dedicated, so we grabbed our Class A's, jump boots and berets and drove north from Ft. Bragg, having done no prior planning (always a mistake!) and not really knowing what to expect. When we got there, we went to several hotels, but were turned away again and rooms at the inn. We were tired and at a loss as to what to do next. So, we improvised....we found a restroom, changed into our Class A's, and tried again. It wasn't long before a high-ranking government employee heard our predicament, and, responding to our uniforms, found us a suite....on his dime.That's when we first knew it was going to be a special few days.

The next day, again in dress uniform, we went over to the park where the wall was to be dedicated. It was uncomfortable at first, two eighteen year old "cherries" amidst all those seasoned combat veterans, but we were soon surrounded by groups of them who wanted to talk to us. Everywhere we went, lines formed, as if we were being honored, rather then they. We were constantly (and goodnaturedly) quizzed (What's your fourth point-of-contact, trooper?), razzed (DROP, troopers!!) and teased (jumpers, HIT IT!), and were bombarded with invitations to that evenings score of parties, dinners and events. The ceremony itself was somber, cold and rainy, but there was also a feeling of closeness and resolution. I must have hugged about two hundred grizzled, unshaved, pot-bellied vets that day, dressed in various combinations of camo fatigues, and my pockets were stuffed with addresses, phone numbers and business cards.

Before leaving to make the long trip back to Bragg, we went to Arlington National cemetery. I defy any American who has ever worn the uniform of this nation to go there and not feel it in the gut. We stopped by to say hello to Audie Murphy, and noted that he had to many medals that they couldn't fit all the major ones on his headstone. We went to the Tomb of the Unknowns for the changing of the guard, and as many people were staring at us as were watching the rituals of the "Old Guard." We spoke to some of the 3rd Infantry soldiers before finally hitting the road. The drive home was long and quiet, but those few days reaffirmed my decision to enlist and serve my country.

Looking back, I now know that the veterans that day felt the same kinship for us as I feel when I say our troopers of today. It's been a long and bloody road that will only get longer as our young country grows. We have to remember these brave men and women, not just on Memorial Day, but everyday. It's on their sacrifice and devotion that country was founded, and we should never forget.

As you can see, I remember. Do you?


Anonymous beaker said...

Excellent post. I have admitted to some that my greatest regret in life was my failure to serve my country in the Armed Forces. Not a day goes by that I don't at some point reflect on it.

I think of the pivotal speech in Mel Gibson's classic, Braveheart, where he tells his fellow countrymen that they can avoid the conflict, but if they do, would they as dying men want to trade all their days of their lives lived in relative safety, to go back and make a difference.

Regret is a terrible thing, because it is of our own making.

God Bless you my friend. America is better because of you, and although I know you'd tell me to my face that you're no hero, to those of us who have had the good fortune to know you, you always will be.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. You are so incredibly gifted at putting into words ---that we --who never served will ever truly know and can only hope to understand!

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, brother....remember that little trip to Eglin?

8:42 PM  

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