Monday, May 28, 2012

Keepers of the Memories

Our veterans tell the story of their dead. They carry the stories to us.

I once saw the Traveling Vietnam Memorial wall at Ocmulgee Indian Mounds. My husband, newly minted in the Marine Corps League, stayed with other veterans guarding the tribute the entire time it was here. The Indian Mounds wore the memorial like a holy salute to the dead.

I saw all kinds of Vietnam veterans at that monument whose reflections in the wall made the blackness come alive.  Every time I looked into those shiny black walls, I saw another veteran carrying another story of another who died whose  names grace its Wall.

I finally visited the real Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. My experience at this wall was so different. The most overriding factor determining my perceptions was the refections in the wall weren't grieving veterans. It was my own curious face,my mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. We didn't look anything like someone who carries on their soul a war for which an excuse has yet to be found.

The memorial for World War II was not so starkly insightful about who I am and am not. It was a gloriously large airy arena where we all wanted to hang out and bask in the grandeur of the views, the magnificence of the sculptures, the skillful transmission of the its largeness in world history.

We strolled back by the Vietnam memorial as we left. I explained my feelings to my niece. The Vietnam Memorial is like a scar on the land, reflecting back to us who we are. It announces with great solemnity that we acknowledge our dead, who fell in commission of the wars waged by our politicians. We acknowledge in its entire geometry the rise and fall of the American War, as the Vietnamese call it. It honors these men and still tells the truth of an unjust war, one that was waged on the Vietnamese people and our own young men, their families and friends.

We are connected to all of these memorials and to each of these names whether we realize it or not. I choose to honor the history and the men and women who sacrificed to create the republic for which I am a citizen. I am proud of our warriors. I am proud of the truth telling of our memorials in Washington. I have great respect for those who serve. Their stories are the reason we acknowledge and mourn with them the great losses and sacrifices they and their fallen comrades have made on behalf of the rest of us. Also I honor  those who have fallen in war anywhere at any time. May the nonsense of war cease.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Death By War, a Memorial Day story

Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who died in war. Most often, it is the survivors of war  who keep the memories for us.

My husband, Carl, is one such survivor. He is a combat veteran of the
Vietnam War (or as it is called in Vietnam - The American War). He carries memories very specific to the week in which Memorial Day occurs.

On May 27th, 1969 near dusk, Carl, who was the squad leader, and his first Fire team leader, Gary, and a member of Gary’s fire team sat in their 3 man fighting hole on the company’s perimeter when a helicopter landed to resupply the company with food and men. Carl distributed the C-Rations among the fire team leaders of his squad. It had been over 24 hours since they had any food.

Carl was called up to the CP (Command post) and was assigned troops “fresh from the world,” which means these men were landing in Vietnam straight from the US. He took the men back to the fighting hole and as they got settled, he wolfed down his spaghetti and meatballs - a meal he had to be hungry to eat. He saved his favorite, ham and lima beans for later.

The area came under attack, the fire brought in by the helicopter giving away their location. Incoming recoilless rifle rounds, highly accurate small artillery pieces, were shooting rounds in the fighting holes up and down the perimeter. Carl and Gary put the two new guys and the fire team member in the fighting hole.

The sun was near setting and therefore firing would soon stop because it would give away the NVA position. Carl watched several men who had left their positions on the perimeter during incoming and were walking on the ridge line back to their hole. Suddenly these men were running. Gary and Carl looked at each other and Carl said, “let’s get down, just in case.” The two of them resumed their positions on top ofthe other three guys, just barely inside the parapit of the fighting hole.

Carl’s entire right side exploded. There was a cloud of black gun powder smoke where Gary had just been. Carl’s flak jacket and and helmet protected his internal organs and head, but his right leg and arm were very nearly blown off. Gary was dead.