I was reading some of my friends’ Facebook posts over the weekend. A few had been in the military in their younger days, and they posted photos of themselves in uniform for Memorial Day. Another friend chided them in one of her posts, saying that she’d be happy to honor them on Veterans Day, but that they needed to learn the meaning of Memorial Day.
I disagreed with her (I wasn’t the only one and the debate on her page was already heated, so I didn’t get into it there). For some veterans, photos of themselves bring back memories of friends and comrades lost in war, and they seek to honor those lost by posting those photos.
That was brought out to me even more Monday night when I watched a movie called “Memorial Day.” The story line is that on Memorial Day in 1995 in Minnesota, a 13-year-old boy finds his grandfather’s World War II footlocker and bugs his grandfather into telling him about souvenirs he finds in the box. A German pistol, a piece of shrapnel, and an old photo of his grandfather and his best friend, who was killed, bring back memories the older man has kept buried for many years. What makes the movie special is that it goes back and forth between 1995 and 2005 when the 13-year-old is a 23-year-old soldier serving in Iraq, collecting his own souvenirs and relating them to what his grandfather had told him.
I grew up during the Vietnam War. Luckily for me, I was too young to get drafted and the war ended the year I graduated from high school. But I have older friends from church who served in Vietnam. Over the years, I’ve tried to get them to talk to me about Vietnam, but they have refrained. Their response is always that you had to have been there to understand what they would say, and they just couldn’t talk to someone who was never there.
It was the same way with my dad. He kept a footlocker with his Army records and memorabilia up in the attic of my family’s house. I stumbled over it one time when I was looking for something else in the attic, and asked him about it, but he never would say very much. I knew that my grandfather had owned a newspaper in Cuthbert, and that my dad had worked there after high school. I also knew that the Army had made use of his newspaper experience because he had helped print the U. S. Army newspaper in the Philippines after the U. S. retook the islands. But I could never get him to talk to me about what it was like during the war.
One of the ideas the movie I watched brought out is that it is important for our veterans to talk about their experiences, not only for their own benefit in dealing with what they experienced, but even more to relate to our younger generations that war is not glamorous and that fighting is something that should be avoided if at all possible. Defending our nation in time of war is a proud and honorable tradition, but isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
We need to hear those stories, and we need to hear them soon. World War II veterans are now in their 90’s and it is estimated that an average of 1,200 veterans are dying each day. Korean War veterans are in their 80’s, and it is estimated that an average of 1,000 veterans are dying each day. Vietnam War veterans are in their 60’s and an estimated 390 are dying each day. On Memorial Day we honor those who gave their lives for this country, but we also need to honor the memories of those who survived, because only they can really tell us about those who were lost.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.