Memorial Day 5/31/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

If this post is published on the anticipated day, that makes today Memorial Day, a day dedicated to those who fell in the defense of our nation. It’s a day of remembrance, a day to give thanks, a day that, frankly, a lot of people like to barbecue. But, barbecues and outdoor parties are not the reason for the holiday.

There are three days in the calendar which are dedicated to those in the military (and it is not nearly enough) along with a few for specific military days like D-Day and Pearl Harbor. Armed Forces Day celebrates those currently in the military, the men and women serving overseas some of whom, hopefully, will be brought out of harms way very soon as President Biden is working to end the Afghanistan conflict, one of our so-called “forever wars”. We’ve been in Afghanistan since President George W. Bush sent ground troops in in 2001. Since then, we have had 3 president (if we include President Bush himself) who have failed to withdraw our troops. It might seem like a 20 years war is the longest in American history, but it pails in comparison to the war with the Native Americans in length (1609, since before America was a nation, to 1924, over 300 years).

Veteran’s Day, then, is a celebration of veterans who have come home safely. These veterans did not pay the proverbial “ultimate price”, but they put themselves in harms way and fought for our freedoms. They fought, many were injured, and saw their friends die all for us. Regardless of their individual contribution, every single one of them deserves our utmost respect and gratitude. I had a barber many years ago who survived the Vietnamese “police action”. He recounted the story to me of how they booed the returning troops and assaulted them by throwing bags of human urine at them. The reality is that if anybody disagrees with any of these conflicts (as I do with the Afghanistan conflict), the angst should be directed to the politicians that got us into those wars. The veterans themselves should be untouchable. Whether the war was just or not, they did exactly what we needed them to do. They followed orders, and work to comprise the most fearsome and well-trained army the world has ever known. Don’t throw your political beliefs in their face; they are all heroes.

Memorial Day, then is a day to celebrate those heroes who did pay the ultimate sacrifice. We remember those heroes who never returned home. Our prayers, thoughts and respect should be going out to the fallen and their family and friends, those who waved their loved ones goodbye but never had the chance to greet them back home.

I wonder if children can understand. How many holidays, birthdays, or backyard barbecues will our fallen hero miss? How many sleepless nights for their partners? How long will parents mourn the passing of their child? War is no small matter, although too many people treat it as if it is a spectator sport. When he launched the Afghanistan war on October 7, 2001, President Bush assured the nation that the entire conflict would be over in a matter of months. On May 1, 2003, about 18 months after the conflict had begun, he stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln with a large banner behind him reading “Mission Accomplished” and gave a speech declaring that we won. No, we didn’t win. Wars are little more than failures by politicians. There is no winning when people die, and now, 18 years after his declaration, we are still at war in Afghanistan. War is not a game, despite what politicians say.

Over 2,000 Americans have died in Afghanistan. That’s 2,000 families that have lost someone, 2,000 men and women who will never be able to return home. I lived in a small town with a national guard base that was deployed. Before going out, the CO, a very young man for such a heavy burden, made the promise that all of them would return home, a promise the fates refused to come to pass. One of their members was killed by an IED. The town welcomed them back with a parade and celebrations, but one fatality would not occur until they were home. This same young CO who had made the promise took the passing of a team member as his burden to shoulder, and he killed himself.

War is not glamorous. It’s not a game. It’s not something to celebrate. It’s brutal, dirty, and deadly, and every fallen hero, including this CO and his charge, deserve our love, and our deepest appreciation.

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