It is the tradition of those visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall to leave behind a gift or rememberance at the panel of the name of the loved one. This year I took along a photo of my nephew David and his new sons. These are my father’s first great-grandchildren. David, who is my father’s namesake, and an Iraqi war veteran, tells his sons a pretty good story about how he came to choose their names. Neither one of David’s boys is named after him or after our father. You can read about the choosing of the names here. I think it’s a compelling first story to introduce the boys to their great-grandfather.
I realize that some of you may have grown weary of the postings about Iraq & Afghanistan war widows and families. I suspect that it was too depressing for you to read at times. More than one person wrote to say that the posts had left them in tears.
I know that being funny is a better choice. I only have to take a look at the numerous hits that blogs that are sarcastic, witty, light-hearted and smart-ass get to know that running a week’s worth of war stories is not what the American public wants.
That said, consider me like that whacked out aunt that comes to your home on Thanksgiving wearing the nylons with elastic at the knees, red lipstick on my teeth, and falsies gone lopsided. I’m a train-wreck but there’s something endearing all the same. You want to look away but the grotesque attracts you in ways you wish it wouldn’t.
There was a reason I was putting up three posts a day for the week of Veterans week. I want you to consider this — if I were to write a story for every active duty American killed in action in Iraq & Afghanistan to date — as of this date 11/11/10 — it would take me posting three stories a day for over five years. Or if I wanted to get all the stories posted in a year, it would require 16 posts a day for 365 days.
Sixteen posts a day about nothing but war widows and children or mothers and fathers, sisters or brothers.
Today at the Wall I was moved to tears many times but the moment when I almost lost it was when three teen girls, about 14 or 15, came up to an old Vietnam veteran. They handed him a letter that they had written. A class project, I suspect.
“We just wanted to tell you that we recognize your service and we want to thank you for that, sir,” the blond girl said.
“Yes,” added the dark-haired, shorter girl. “We really do appreciate all you have done. Thank you, sir.”
The old man, leaning on a cane, fought back tears as he accepted that letter from those girls. When he hobbled off, they turned to each other and began crying. As they turned to leave I read the back of their shirts: Serving those who’ve served.
It is not enough to set aside a day a year to say thank you to a veteran, an active duty personnel or a military family. We need to find ways to serve these people throughout the year.
Whether that’s through the work you do with the homeless, or through the friendships you build at bible study, or through Rotary, or if you’re a teacher teaching the next generation to care about the forgotten one, Bob Dylan had it right — You need to serve somebody.
This is your crazy aunt speaking.