It's Memorial Day weekend again here in the United States. A long weekend for American workers and their families. Time to get the camping gear together, fire up the barbecue grill, or head to that favorite beach or fishing hole. Oh, and let's not forget the "Memorial Day" sales hyped every waking minute on the boob tube. Never back off from a chance to to turn an honest buck, right?
Me? I've never been very fond of Memorial Day weekend. I can't help associating it with bad memories and friends who never got the chance to come home again. Sure, I'm getting to be an old coot nowadays, but when I remember my two combat tours in the Vietnam War I always feel the same way I did at 18 (1966) and later at 20 (1968). I'm not here to whine about that experience or play the victim. It was what it was. I was young, idealistic, and committed to doing what I thought was the right thing at the time. But the war changed me forever and that's a fact. I left a piece of me over there that I'll never recover...gone forever like each passing moment of my life.
That's how these things work, you know? You could've fought at Gettysburg, Chateaux Thierry, Iwo Jima or the Ardennes, Pork Chop Hill, Hue, Fallujah, or in the Korengal Valley. The faces change and so do the weapons and terrain, but in the end there's a continuum and similarity that defies the passage of time. Some wars need to be fought and others don't. The latter are usually cooked up by those who have never served or sacrificed, nor will they ever. Ditto for their sons and daughters. Usually there's an agenda behind these saber rattlers' actions and it typically has little to do with patriotism, flag waving, or Mom and apple pie. Nope. I think wealth, power, and greed are the drivers of those questionable conflicts and I served in one of them, sad to say. Don't get me wrong though. I did the very best I could and I never ran or folded up like a cheap suit when the shit hit the fan. My buddies did the same. They were young, scared, terribly homesick, and at times, deeply troubled by what they witnessed and what they had to do. So was I. But we hung tough just the same. For us...no one else.
I'm glad things are somewhat better these days for returning veterans and I'd like to think that we Vietnam Veterans paid the price to open that door for them. You see, we returned from that awful place to indifference and in certain instances, outright hostility. We were verbally abused, called baby killers and psychos, and left to our own devices when it came to attempting to put our lives back together again. There was little or no help from the Veterans Administration (V.A.), no Vet Centers to provide counseling or advice or jobs, and no real appreciation or respect for what we'd endured. Even today, after giving up my youth (from 17-21) to the military and Lyndon Johnson's bullshit war, I've found out I'm not entitled to any V.A. medical care because I make too much money in my current position. I couldn't even ask for a damn band aid from the V.A. in that regard. However, were I some drug-addled stumble bum who'd served in the military (non-combat) for a year and then got bounced out for "unsuitability," I'd be entitled to full V.A. medical care. Am I pissed off about that? You bet I am.
(Pork Chop Hill.)
I hear some of the politicians running for office these days repeating the same stale "When elected I'm gonna help the vets" spiel over and over again. Really? We shall see, won't we? It's a very hard thing to think that your service and sacrifice was all for naught and it's as painful as it is disheartening. I ponied up and gave my all when it was required of me and somehow, someway I expected a little understanding and perhaps some help to go along with that understanding. So much for youthful idealism, right? I'm not the only one who feels this way. There are tens of thousands of others who feel exactly the same. They, like us Vietnam Vets, were used up like Kleenex tissue and then tossed aside soiled and seemingly useless. This isn't melodrama on my part, but reality. You can take that to the bank with you.
No, I'm not whining or complaining. I've pretty much made peace with my end of things. But the callousness and inconsistencies of our so-called leaders and their governmental bureaucracies that sent us to fight and die and then turned their backs on us make my blood boil still. That's one thing that'll never change. Never. Right up until my last breath. You see, you can't throw young people into some deadly conflict you conjured up for personal gain, use them up and toss them aside, and then think they're gonna be OK with it. Got that you bastards??
So enjoy your cook outs and camping trips. Treasure this time off spent with your families and loved ones. But in the back of your mind remember all who served and sacrificed so much and honor them this weekend by whispering a small "Thank you."
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org