Memorial Day is a day to remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States military.
While we have no family members who died while in the military, we have plenty who have served.
My father-in-law served in the Marines in WWII.
My father served in the Army in the Korean War.
My brother served in the Navy and was in the Middle East for the Siege of Beirut in 1982.
We’ve had uncles, nephews, and cousins serve.
DSH and I are children of the 70s so our memories of war were those of the long running conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The Vietnam War officially ended a few months before I graduated from high school, but I remember teachers and older students being drafted and leaving to serve.
DSH and his older brother were part of the draft lottery. Basically, you were assigned a random number based on your birthday. Each year the military would take up to so many numbers based on how many people they needed. DSH’s draft number was 100 (out of 365 so it was considered a low number). The year before he was eligible to be drafted, they took up to number 100. The next year, when he was eligible, because the war was in the last stages of winding down, they took up to number 50.
He would have served willingly, but by the 1970s, the Vietnam War was becoming a political albatross as the Peace Movement escalated and the American public grew increasingly tired of the seemingly never-ending conflict. I remember the anti-war protests.
Because of this, many Vietnam vets have felt slighted or overlooked for having served our country. The feelings that I remember really revolved around extreme fear and sadness for those I knew who went over there. Southeast Asia seemed so far away and remote and a waste of time, money, and lives to me looking at the world through the eyes of a teenager.
And, while I think we should always honor the men and women who have served our country in the military, I also think we should be careful not to glorify war. War is ugly business, and in those places where it occurs, many innocent people, particularly the most vulnerable – women, children, the elderly – suffer the most.
While we often share the numbers of military casualties, what is often not considered are the casualty rates among innocent civilians, the physical and emotional harm brought particularly to women and children, the physical conditions of feeling unsafe as well as deprivations including starvation, not to mention loss of livelihood and property.
The other group of people impacted by those who serve are the families – the spouses and parents and children and siblings and other family members. They are left taking care of everything else at home, all while worrying about their loved one. I know how hard it is to parent alone when a spouse is traveling for a few days on a business trip. I cannot even imagine going an extended period of time, through holidays, and family life events including births and deaths without my spouse by my side.
So, on this Memorial Day, I would not only like to thank the veterans and active military, I would also like to remember the innocent victims of wars and military conflicts, and I am grateful to the families left behind while their loved ones served or serve our nation.