Memorial Day: Remembering serious people
The approach of Memorial Day reminds me of the utter stupidity emanating from Washington, D.C., and TV news reporters that seem complicit in delivering the party line but rarely think of sobering questions to ask.
I fear that it may be very hard for us once again to become a serious people. That concern is redoubled since we are at war but less than 1 percent serve in the armed forces while everyone else is free to ignore it if they wish, and most do. There are more pressing matters, it seems, like reality TV, “American Idol” and the latest misbehavior of inconsequential celebrities made rich and famous by a foolish public.
Personally, I don’t care much for ceremony, even on Memorial Day, but I think of the guys I served with in the Vietnam War nearly every day. I suppose it has been like that for vets of all wars, men and women who carry for the rest of their lives a bond that is not easy to explain.
For me, the ones who died paid a high price for a country that seemed not to care. The ones who lived are my trusted friends for life, even the vets I have never met.
How can I explain that? Why is it that if I know a man is a Vietnam vet, he is welcome in my home, I readily give him the presumption of my trust, I assume he is honorable, a patriot, someone who would rush to help me if I asked? Why is it that I enjoy their company more than anyone other than my close friends and family?
I have my own theory, that those who have survived combat together learned quick to be serious people, to instinctively discern the frivolous from the important, to recognize that protecting the most valuable things requires sacrifice, and that the most important and valuable things we had at the time were our duty and each other.
Vets of all wars, I think, feel those connections. Consider what 2nd Lt. Kyle A. Comfort wrote on his blog in 2008 while he served in Iraq:
“Thursday, January 31, 2008
“Distance means nothing
“Current mood: grateful
“... You can read it in books, you can see it on TV, you can see it in the newspapers, but unless you have actually been here to watch these few, these happy few, who day after day put themselves at risk to complete the mission then you could never truly understand their sacrifices.
“Some don’t know what the mission is in the grand scheme, some don’t even care, but regardless they will complete it with honor.
“Every day I wake up to see these men of Bravo Company take another step closer towards freedom. Not just freedom for themselves, for you or for me, but for the people of Iraq ... They have left it all behind, some for a 2nd and 3rd time, and they conduct each day with nothing more than a guarantee that tomorrow is one day closer to home.
“They complain not about being here, not about why we’re here, not even about how many times they have been here. Their complaints are usually the unclean water they shaved with this morning, assuming they were given the opportunity ...
“I can stare any one of these men in the face and read the story of what it is to serve honorably ... waking up each day to see these heroes driving on as if this day was the greatest day I find hard to hold in. They ask nothing of their leaders except the truth ... I did not KNOW honor until I served with these soldiers.
“I am truly a blessed man who has been given all that I have ever asked. My reward is to have this opportunity to serve alongside them ... Some of these men are no more than 17-18 years of age but make no mistake for they are as much a man as any one person you know. Words can never convey what these men do each day ...
“Every time I leave the wire I know they are watching out for me. Sometimes I can tell they are watching out for me more so than they are themselves. At first I thought it was because I was a lieutenant, and maybe so at first, but not any more. Now they do it because I’m one of them ... Bravo Company ...
“America, sleep sound tonight. The soldiers of Bravo Company will tuck you in with the power of freedom and all that it offers ...
“When you see these few, these happy few, tell them you love them for their sacrifice and that you slept well tonight.”
The “happy few” Lt. Comfort referred to is from Shakespeare’s play, “King Henry V,” depicting the king’s encouragement to his vastly outnumbered men before they won the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Shakespeare gave him a long and complex speech, of course, but here are the relevant lines:
“This story shall the good man teach his son;
“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
“From this day to the ending of the world,
“But we in it shall be remembered —
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
“For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
“Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
“This day shall gentle his condition;
“And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
“Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
“And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
“That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
When he wrote “Henry V” in 1599, Shakespeare knew somehow there is an eerie connection between those who fight by each other’s side. It was 40 years ago for me and I still think about the ones I am connected to all the time. Remembering is my constant companion, as it might have been for Kyle A. Comfort, now a captain.
He was killed in Afghanistan a few weeks ago while serving in D CO 3rd/75th Ranger Regiment, and my guess is he felt very close to his men just as he did in Iraq. He was buried Monday, May 17, in Jacksonville, Ala.
On Memorial Day I hope you think about all the Americans who lost their lives serving their country, including Capt. Comfort. I hope you look past the grand speeches, consider those few, happy few, serious people who died doing something important, and see the contrast with an oblivious world awash in a sea of trivia.
[Peachtree City resident Terry Garlock writes opinion columns occasionally for The Citizen. His email is email@example.com.]