Guest Blogger: A Navy Man Talks About Memorial Day
Good afternoon, everyone. Or good morning, good evening, whenever you are reading this.
Regular followers of my wife’s blog have noticed that she has a soft spot for military men. This works out pretty well for me, being a proud US Navy Petty Officer First Class; we define ourselves as so bad-ass that when we wake up in the morning and our feet hit the floor, the devil himself looks up and say, “Oh, s**t, they’re awake.” We think highly of ourselves, but it’s not entirely unearned. After all, every US Navy Chief alive wouldn’t exist if not for us, and US Navy Chiefs, as everyone knows, were created by God himself to take care of the things that He couldn’t.
My wife’s soft spot for military men usually results in a Memorial Day blog post that jerks tears from your heart. Kate’s understanding of the demands, the almost overwhelming burden of military service, is beyond compare. She understands the Cost, capital C. However, this year, she let me take the helm for her Memorial Day post.
I’m not as eloquent as she is. I don’t have the tools or the vocabulary or the experience to lay out words in such a heart-rending way that people sit still for a contemplative moment and think, “…….WOW.” That skill, I am afraid, is beyond me. However, what I can do is speak about Memorial Day, and why I would submit that people should take a contemplative moment or two themselves: remember those who have served, those who have lost and been lost, those who have stood at the front. Those rough souls have a unique perspective lacking in much of the populace, and it is that perspective I wish to provide. For what is Memorial Day if not a day of remembrance? Granted, it’s a day for family, a day for friends, for BBQ, for relaxation, and for celebrating the start of summer. But……..the blunt fact is that the origin of Memorial Day is sacrifice. Sacrifice of life, sacrifice of limb, sacrifice of peace and tranquility and sanity. It’s the sacrifice of everyone who has gone before, everyone who has stood nearest to that deep line in the sand and proclaimed, “This far, and no further.”
So here I am with my soapbox. Not out of intent to shame, nor intent to incite guilt, nor attempts to tug at heart-strings, but a simple intent to provide perspective. It is the view from the Other Side.
I have lost. My father. My best friend. Shipmates. Partners. Strangers without names.
My father served in the Army 82nd Airborn Division. He was drafted into Vietnam, and served his time in that quiet Hell known as Alaska. He served honorably for his term, and then was honorably discharged. He was lost almost 3 years ago of natural causes. For him and his honorable service, I lift my glass.
Several years ago, while underway on a destroyer, my best friend hanged himself during the night. The reasons were asked. Hands were wrung. Everyone had an idea. I was one of the last people to speak with him – and the simple truth, from what I knew, was that stress of his particular situation proved too much. The service asks everything of you. Absolutely everything, and some cannot flex accordingly. For those that can’t flex, the cost can be, in horrific fashion, fatal. For him and his honorable service, I lift my glass.
I’ve had friends die. I’ve been in position under fire. I’ve almost kissed Death on the mouth so many times I’ve lost count. Not all of them were because of the service, I’ll admit. But a lot were. On several occasions, my shipmates and I have charged into traffic to save dying men, as a matter of duty. And unfortunately, most of the time we failed. But that is the fundamental tenet of military service: you give your all. Flat out. No brakes. Even if it appears hopeless, you Give. Your. All. And for many, that includes their lives.
So……..here’s my point. If you know someone who has served, look them in the eye, don’t say a word, and (symbolically, if you need to), raise a glass. Because Memorial Day is a day to remember the most noble and honorable sacrifices of those who have served, and are serving. Yes, there is BBQ. Yes, there is a celebration of summer. Yes, there are pools and games and joy and delighted screams from children encountering water far too cold for their liking. But the quiet truth behind the thin veneer of constructed glee that we enjoy on a long weekend, is the fact that the this day would not exist if not for sacrifices of those gone before. We stand, this Country stands, on the honor and sacrifice of those rough souls standing watch, who, when asked the cost they would be willing to pay, calmly replied, “Sir, any and all.” I would not have them forgotten, and neither should you. I leave you with the immortal words of William Henley, as I see describing Those In Service:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
And as my beloved wife has mentioned in previous years, we will both take a moment on Memorial Day to raise a glass, and offer the toast: “To the fallen. Our Honored Dead.”