Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day weekend. It's more than a holiday.

The first year I lived in the USA, in California, the first Memorial Day holiday, I went to the ceremony at Mount Vernon Memorial Park, a cemetery in Citrus Heights. While in England, fallen and wounded soldiers are remembered and honoured in November, "Poppy Day", with the flowers that represent the fields of Flanders where so many lost their lives, in the USA it is the last Monday of May.

The most moving part of that ceremony was witnessing a group of men, older than myself but not by much, leather-clad bikers, Vietnam veterans, who arrived and left on their Harleys and whose participation in the memorial ceremony moved me to tears. It brought home--if it was needed--that wars are fought by real men, real women, real human beings. Not numbers--though the number of lives lost, and damaged, are horrendous. After all the years that had passed, these tough leathery men were shedding tears for their lost colleagues, friends and comrades.

And while enjoying the festivities at this year's Sacramento Music Festival, again and again I noticed the veterans. Some bikers, some not. One gentleman with not one but three Purple Hearts on his hat, witnessing his bravery and his war wounds.

This gentleman reminded me that the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall was at the Mount Vernon Memorial Park this weekend. I went there on the way home. It had me in tears.

No matter how inane you consider any war; no matter how stupid you find the justification for fighting; no matter how little you agree with the leaders who declare; no matter how fervently you believe and want and strive for that elusive existance, "peace"; how can you fail to be moved by the sight of nearly sixty thousand names, each one an American soldier lost to the conflict in Vietnam.

Each name, one person. Somebody's son (or daughter). Somebody's husband, friend, lover, brother, soul-mate, father. Gone. All gone. But not forgotten.

"He joined up when he was fourteen, lied about his age.  He was fifteen when he died."

Snippets of conversation, as people sought the names of loved ones, of family members. Rubbed pencil over paper to make and save an image of the name; one of 58,227, embossed in a 3/4 size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that stands in Washington, DC.

(And yes, of course, there was loss on the "other side" too. And they all had families and loved ones and lives that were forever changed. War leaves no-one undamaged. This is not a statement about right, or might, and wrong. Remember too... for the most part, Vietnam was not a volunteer war. Young men were conscripted. There was no choice.)

And so this Memorial Day weekend, I think of all the men and women who have given their time, their youth, their courage, their health and often their lives, by serving the people of their country through military service. They all fought for what we believe in: freedom.

Thank you, Veterans.

A few more photos: 

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