By Emily Lundy
“When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hooray, Hooray….” is one of many wartime songs written through wars upon more wars as promised. This omen is even in the song with the words “Again.”
Hollywood has memorialized, satirized, criticized, immortalized wars in multiple ways. Poets have used “War” as a subject almost as much as “Love.” Stephen Crane, American Poet, 1871-1900, wrote “War is Kind” then blasted the “kindness” in bitterness.
In an article somewhere, I read that one thing better since the “9-11” American experience is the way we treat our veterans and those on their way to being veterans.
Groups today send boxes abroad of items not found on the war front. In airports like DFW, lines of ordinary and not so ordinary form an aisle for plane-departing soldiers to walk through on their way to board another plane. Cheers, tears, thank you’s, the waving of flags, even hugs salute these warriors from afar.
The few weddings I’ve seen with the groom in his dress uniform makes an impressive view. Men and women in uniform have long caught the eye of all ages of ordinary people.
But nothing equals the agony of the heart of the mother who awaits at home knowing her son or daughter stands in the path of death or devastating injury. Too many soldiers come home to be veterans who will never be the same, if not in bodily form, then in mind.
America is doing better to help these families, but not enough. Those who come back in seemingly good shape don’t talk about what they have done or seen. War is not kind; it is Hell. When one of my heroic uncles died of old age, we had to find his medals under a secret den flooring in a lock box hidden under his house. He didn’t share much except in the teaching of all the sky formations of stars to my brother and me.
Two visits to the Memorial Grounds in Washington D.C. haunt my soul.
Countless markers of dead soldiers closed the mouth for any remark or turned words into whispers. I’ll admit, upon first seeing the Vietnam Wall, it was not as I had pictured. It was not ornate, almost a large lowering in the ground.
Then I descended toward the corner bend. Suddenly as a visitor I was surrounded with name after name engraved in stone, in the order they met death. (A book on the premises alphabetizes names of the dead and gives location.)
Even regiments in foreign uniform knelt to find names. Hands pressed on depressed names. Silence griped the air. Other visitors traced names with thin paper and pencil.
This elaborate simplicity of “in memoriam” screams of war and all its faults. Too many names on that wall were my age as they fought, but they didn’t find everlasting love or hold a grandchild or see the Grand Canyon. The expression of walking on “holy ground” becomes reality in a cloak of genuine sadness and remorse and grief, the war where Americans shot the messenger as they returned home, great numbers of 19-year-old kids when they left for the unknown. This war had children of the enemy used to blow up soldiers and themselves. No war is pretty, but modern conventions showed and delved into this one as never before. My life remained the same as I was juggling motherhood with a career.
And on a sunny day, here I stood, at the Vietnam Wall, face to face with life and death, feeling a need to kneel and weep, wail, at one with eternity. I too had been naive too long.
A man living in our community went to Vietnam for three missions, getting his orders changed the third time to take the place of his only brother, younger. “He won’t survive,” he pleaded. “He doesn’t know the jungle as I do.” This older brother came home to his family, not quite the same, and he talks often, explaining the count of bullets used from his gun as he slept, telling something else unbelievable, but for a long time, he could be watching any television show and tears would be flowing from his eyes, unaware. He limps, has a steel plate in one upper leg, but he walks with pride.
I am proud to be an American; I wish everyone living here truly was; I am not proud of my blase’ and sometimes forgetful of my brothers – the Veterans as wars continue. Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2011.