When I was a young boy, Memorial Day was exciting. It was the opening of the swimming pool, and after a day of pool games with my little brothers, my family would go to a picnic and cookout of epic proportions. Tables full of watermelon, burgers and brats, corn on the cob greeted my family now dressed up in matching outfits. Is it a wonder that so many of my siblings still wear matching outfits to work?
Now Memorial Day has different meaning. I just received an email from friend that Greg G. was badly injured by an IED in Afghanistan last Thursday. His cousin, Rick P., is a friend of mine who I see at least once a week in the lobby of William Morris. I met three of his cousins a couple of years ago after the NYC opening of Brothers at War. I can’t help but wonder if Greg was one of them. I know that in addition to those injured, eight died on Thursday in Afghanistan.
The fight for the souls of the civilians is ongoing. It is a fight won, one on one, as Marines and Soldiers slug it out across the mountains and in the villages of Afghanistan. For some, their older brothers or they themselves fought a similar fight house to house, block by block in Iraq.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hang out with 700 Soldiers at FT Riley, recently back from Iraq. They said, “Jake you wouldn’t recognize the place.” Basra, a town of six million people, looked like an oil boom town. During the entire deployment, they had only received 3-4 indirect fires (rockets or mortars lobbed into the base). I remember when going from 3-4 a day, to 3-4 a week was a major step forward. If what these Soldiers tell me is true, it seems to me that Iraq is the most significant victory the US Military has had since WW II. While the support is there, do you feel that they have received the praise they deserve for the part they played in this feat?
I looked at the long list of names on the Vietnam Memorial a couple of weeks ago. Each name a gift of life that was cut too short. Each name a tragedy, a tragic memory for their comrades, and a source of pain for their families. Many Vietnam Vets have told me, “I wish you were with us in Vietnam.” I wonder if maybe a side of their story has never made it back from the rice patties of South East Asia. They never lost a battle, but had to endure the scorn of many civilians, the lack of respect from vets of an older generation, “we won our war, what happened to you guys.”
While we think of, remember, and praise those who have fallen in service to our country, I hope we hold a piece of Memorial Day within us everyday and commit to serve their comrades who have made it home.