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