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Veterans Day 2021 - The Wars End But Casualties Continue To Mount

Wann wird man je verstehen?

Wann wird man je verstehen?

Three red carnations lie on the plaque at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. They were placed there by the family of a friend of 56 years who had been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery the day before, November 3rd. I attended the burial service along with another friend of 56 years. We were all at Ft. Benning for training in 1965 and then went separate ways, however, always stayed in touch. Two of us eventually went to Vietnam and the other to South Korea. Our lives intertwined over the decades and eventually war wounds, depression, and Agent Orange took a toll on that one Vietnam Veteran friend. He died at the age of 80 on June 15th. Veteran death rates are so high that to be buried at Arlington one must qualify, yet still wait 4-5 months to be interred.  

This is the fourth of my fellow Vietnam Veteran friends who have died as the result of the war but well after the war ended  One died of a self-inflicted gunshot and the two others of alcohol consumption.  

“Since the Vietnam War ended, thousands of Vietnam veterans have died each year due to Agent Orange exposure, PTSD/suicide, cancer and other causes related to their service. This plaque, placed in 2004, recognizes these individuals. " 

IN MEMORY
OF THE MEN AND WOMEN
WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR
AND LATER DIED AS A RESULT
OF THEIR SERVICE
WE HONOR AND REMEMBER
THEIR SACRIFICE

Over the last few days I have been watching a Public Broadcasting series entitled American Veterans (click on the title to gain free access to the episodes). The documentary is an excellent primer for those whose knowledge of the military is minimal and are interested in finding out what veterans experience when their country sends them off to war.  For veterans, you will recognize yourself in these videos. I guarantee it.  

In one part of the second video entitled The Return, a woman from the Crow tribe in Montana returns after duty in a war zone and is greeted at the airport by a large group of her tribe who paint her face and drum for her. Two older Vietnam veterans in the tribe place a war bonnet on her as she protests that, as a woman, she cannot be a warrior, but they place it on her head and tell her that now she is a warrior. They say she is a different person now and then ask her to begin her journey back by leading dancers and drummers in a line out of the airport. Unfortunately, most service men and women do not have the same support mechanisms as are available to Native Americans.

From the U.S. Department of Defense:  “Veterans Day honors all of those who have served the country in war or peace — dead or alive — although it’s largely intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices.” 

Nevertheless, there is still confusion over the reasons we honor veterans on both of these days, Veterans Day (11 November) and Memorial Day (last Monday of May). For those who desire to delve into the details, Wikipedia gives a pretty good rundown of the history of both holidays.   

And lastly, for our older veterans as they experience the effects of old age and reminisce about what never can be again, some lines from Ulysses. This excerpt was sent to me the other day by a retired lieutenant colonel with whom I served many years and had not seen in decades. We met last week and talked for seven hours.

Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” (excerpts):

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! 

As tho' to breathe were life! …..

….. and vile it were 

…. to store and hoard myself, 

And this gray spirit yearning in desire 

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. 

….. you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end, 

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. 

                             …..

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' 

We are not now that strength which in old days 

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,-- 

One equal temper of heroic hearts, 

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Comments by Readers

Michael Riordan

Nov 11, 2021

Thanks, Dick, for this truly touching memorial. It brought to mind the words from a Phil Ochs song of the mid-1960s that you may remember:

There but for fortune go you and I . . .

And those lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” were first shown me after the Lake Samish Row a few years ago by an aging Harvard oarsman, like me now pushing 75, but unlike me still racing competitively. He is legendary in the sport nationally, having suffered a heart attack while on the water but getting back in the shell a few weeks later at the world-famous Head of the Charles Regatta, racing three miles with Harvard buddies.

He now lives on the shores of LakeWhatcom, rowing or sculling almost daily.

 

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Geoff Middaugh

Nov 11, 2021

Eloquent, as always.   Thanks Dick.  

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Gene Knutson

Nov 11, 2021

Thanks Dick, Happy Veterans Day and to all our Vets!!!! Thanks for your service.

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David A. Swanson

Nov 11, 2021

every day, all the way, Dick! They will never understand.

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 11, 2021

And thanks to all of you for reading and taking the time to comment.

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 11, 2021

And this music video for David Swanson who served in the 101st Airborne Division.  A bit of Van Halen to make your day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bC8HDPEg_ho

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Steve M. James

Nov 11, 2021
Another Veterans day has come. Another chance to take a moment to measure the terrible of cost war, all wars. I have to wonder—-what has all the suffering really accomplished? I am compelled to re-post my blog entry for last Veterans Day:
In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, an armistice was signed. The “war to end all wars” was over. I was standing at the checkout stand today while the lady ahead of me struggle to fill out a check to pay for her purchase. After what seemed a lifetime she handed the check the cashier who reviewed it and then handed it back saying “you need to change the date to the eleventh” . Oh, said the lady as she looked back at me apologetically. I smiled and said “no problem, today is Veterans day you know, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. That’s the way I remember it”. Both the lady and the cashier looked at me dumbfounded and the cashier asked ” what’s that, I’ve never heard that before !”. I actually felt a tear well up in me. At that moment I heard the collective sigh of thousands of young souls. Young soldiers buried throughout the world, lost to the various wars (madness) that has come to almost every generation . Had their loss, their sacrifice, their blood, their bravery and gut retching agonizing fear been lost from the collective memory of those they died for, the next generations ? I am a Veteran. I do not say that often or do I often talk about my experience in Viet Nam from 1966 to 1967. I am like thousands of others who went to war and did the not so glorious part of war called support. I did not participate in any battles, sieges, campaigns or actions. I was not physically wounded. I lived in a tent with twenty other guys and did a job ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week for three hundred and fifty five days (I circled every one on a calendar). As so aptly put in a scene from what I believe is a great antiwar movie Mr Roberts, I “sailed from boredom to tedium to apathy and back again”. It was a backward , foreign country and a war zone, and I never was not scared and lonely , except when I was drinking to much beer which was all the time that I was not working or sleeping. There was a skinny young guy from Los Angeles in the tent next to mine. His parents would occasionally send him copies of the L.A. Times and he would share them with me. A taste of Southern California, of home. I remember how great it was to read about familiar names and places. I cannot say we were close friends but friends we were. Comrades in the struggle to stay sane in a crazy world. Coming from a small mostly white and Hispanic Southern California town, Cleve became the first black American I had ever known let alone befriended. And I felt privileged that he would let me in his small circle of friends. Even in my training companies there had been few blacks and everyone seemed to self segregate themselves. Black and white alike. Many of my racial prejudices based from ignorance were erased by Cleve and his friends. About halfway through our tour of duty in the Nam, Cleve, became quite ill. He would go on sick call and the medics would send with back with a handful of aspirin to try to reduce his fever, and orders for “bed rest” which meant that he got to lay in his bunk in 110 degree heat all day. On the third day of being sent back from the hospital with aspirins and bed rest, Cleve collapsed in the middle of the company area while trying to walk to his tent. One of the few decent Officers in our outfit saw Cleve, found out what was going on from us and immediately drove Cleve back to the Hospital. We were with him when he literally ordered the intake Medics to admit Cleve or heads would roll. Two days later while laying in one of the largest Field Hospitals in Viet Nam, Cleve Jackson of Los Angeles California died of an infected bowel. In 1985 I visited Washington DC and one of the first things I did when I arrived there was to visit the Wall (The Viet Nam Memorial). I searched the list of names for Cleveland Jackson and found nothing. I went to the information booth and asked for help. Why wasn’t Cleves name in the book? How could I find his name on the Wall ? The guy at the booth was a Veteran himself and I think understood my sense of urgency. He told me in matter of fact but understanding way that because Cleve did not die of wounds received in hostile action or in combat, his name is not on the Wall. I was dumb struck and still am. So to Blogging world, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, I offer in memory of a fallen soldier the name:
Cleveland Jackson
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Dick Conoboy

Nov 12, 2021

Steve,

Thanks for reposting your story.  It confirms some of what is presented in the American Veteran series I linked to within my  article. 

I always encourage veterans to let their families and other non-military citizens know what military life is and, above all, that life in a combat zone.  You do not have to have been in the infantry.  Your story qualifies no matter what. 

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Angelo Tsoukalas

Nov 12, 2021

Great article Dick, I’ll have to check those PBS docs. And great blog, Steve. I was born the last year you were in Viet Nam. Sad about your friend though, but the saddest thing is that a lot of young people don’t know much history. 

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
― Edmund Burke

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 12, 2021

Angelo,

And I have a corollary to Burke’s statement:  “Those who do know history, still f*uck up as stupidity knows no bounds.”  If you doubt that look to the WH and Congress for examples galore.  😊

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Angelo Tsoukalas

Nov 12, 2021

 Sad but true

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