Patriotism & Memorial Day

I took a friend to the Red Sox game last week. In addition to being a Fenway Park virgin, he’s also a veteran who served in Iraq. Twice. So it was fitting that that particular nationally televised game turned out to be “Military Night” at Fenway. I’d like to say I had it all planned out to impress him, but it was totally coincidental.

The pageantry that night was second to none. Soldiers from all branches of our armed forces were present and accounted for, hundreds of them lining the field. Distinguished veterans were honored and threw out pitches. A soldier with a prosthetic leg running the bases was a particularly poignant moment.

And then came the piece de resistance:

Fenway’s fabled Green Monster—which stands 37-1/2 feet tall in left field—was draped in an enormous American flag while the Star Spangled Banner was performed. And as you can see, our seats provided prime viewing.

It was a powerful moment. But it’s what happened afterwards that moved me most.

My friend—my tough as nails, macho, 6’5″ mountain of a friend—had tears in his eyes. And I realized in that moment how much I take for granted. I donated some money once to a non-profit organization that helps veterans and I take my hat off when the national anthem is played. Aside from that, I haven’t served my country in any tangible way.

But my friend (and countless others just like him) have done so. And then some. They’ve left their families for months and even years at a time, often missing huge milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries and even the births of their kids. They’ve dodged bullets in the desert, and sometimes those bullets didn’t miss. They’ve watched their friends die and they’ve had to defend themselves. Often by lethal means.

Some don’t come back, but even the ones who do don’t always come back whole. The missing parts aren’t as obvious as an absence of limbs either. It’s insidious PTSD, nightmares and memories that never seem to fade. It’s not being able to enter a city block without worrying about snipers, or being uncomfortable every time you’re around a large group of people. It’s being petrified about assimilating back into a society after witnessing the unspeakable.

Is it any wonder the song that encompasses all those things brings tears to the eyes of the people who have taken it upon themselves to experience the unimaginable horror of war so we don’t have to be burdened with it?

I’ve been around veterans when people from the general public come up to them and ask/say stupid things. “How many people did you kill?” “Were you shot at?” “Did anyone in your unit die?” I’m not sure what it is about that uniform that seems to give people the right to think it’s OK to ask ridiculously insensitive questions, but it does happen. And I want to punch them in the face.

I don’t know the best way to honor veterans. But personally, if I see a veteran I offer a handshake and a simple “thank you for your service.” And for my friends who served, I’m just there. There if they want to talk about what happened, and there when they want to talk about everything else instead.

When it comes to Will, all I can do is instill in him an appreciation for the monumental sacrifice our veterans make for us. And lucky for us both, I happen to have a handful of friends I can show him who illustrate that point perfectly.

Happy Memorial Day. And thank you—all of you who put your lives on the line for this country—for your service.

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4 thoughts on “Patriotism & Memorial Day

  1. I understand your patriotism and I understand that you are sensitive to the subject, but I don’t really understand why those people have to die or suffer. Those wars are not yours to fight. It is not your country under attack, not even your continent, or your neighbors. Why is it that Americans feel the need to go anywhere in the world and fight? Who gives you the right to fight in Irak? Iraki people were never your enemies. They never came with an army and attack US. Or in Afghanistan? Or before that? In different countries…You were never attacked on your own territory, you don’t really know what a war means for a country. So, yes those soldiers are brave and they fight well. But what are they doing in those wars in the first place. It’s never the French, or the Germans, or the British, or the Africans or the Japonese…It’s always the Americans. I don’t question the reasons those soldiers have, only the reasons of those who sent them there.

  2. roxana: I’m not going to get into a political discussion about whether US soldiers should be in Iraq (that’s with a Q at the end, by the way) or Afghanistan. But to say we’ve never been attacked on US soil is woefully ignorant. Ever heard of Pearl Harbor? Or if you want more recent events, how about that pesky little thing on Sept. 11? Granted, you can argue those attacks can’t be directly linked to Iraq. But the fact remains, we have been attacked here at home. To claim otherwise is just wrong.

    But more than that, this article was not about whether or not the US should be at war. Because we are at war. In terms of being thankful for our veterans, the reason we’re there is irrelevant. The focus of this piece is to shine a light of appreciation and gratitude on the people who serve. That is it.

    And bringing politics into it is unnecessary and—quite frankly—rude.

  3. It was never my intention to be rude or to offend. I respect veterans and soldiers, not only the American ones, but also those who are all over Europe, or Asia. I just wanted to raise a question, that most of you prefer to ignore.
    And I repeat. You had no war on your territory, a real war, like those in Europe. A war that destroy cities and kill millions. Maybe you would be more careful how to fight abroad if you knew. I didn’t say anything about World Wars, cause those were wars justly fought by you. But Sept. 11 was an attack by a group, not a country. Though you attacked a country. There was no proof of weapons in Iraq, though you attacked a whole country. And now, that Saddam is gone, why are you still there?
    These are political issues, yes, but you should debate them too when you talk about bravery and veterans.
    You are not at war. You just get involved in other countries problems and then you are upset by the consequences.

  4. roxana: I don’t necessarily disagree with you about Iraq. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who can honestly say they stand by our reasons for going to war with any amount of confidence. And debate on this very topic has been widespread for years, which is a good thing.

    But I still maintain it’s inappropriate to bring it up on Memorial Day, because the whole point is honoring those who serve. Not tearing down their confidence and questioning the job they do. They are employees of the government and they go where they are sent. I know for a fact not all of them agree with the reasons they are sent there. But they do their sworn duty anyways, because that’s their job. And I respect that.

    The job they do and the motives of the people who send them there to do it are two very different things, and the latter should be discussed. Just not on a day of thanks to them.

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