Originally posted on Pantheon May 31, 2010
This isn’t going to be a very uplifting Memorial Day post. Nor is it very Pagan, except perhaps in the way that I view collective responsibility and the necessity to uphold it.
This time last year [author’s note: six years ago now], we had just found out that my brother, a Vietnam veteran, had liver cancer. He hadn’t been getting regular screenings from the VA even though he had been exposed to Agent Orange and should have been considered high-risk. They didn’t tell him that. It was just the last in a myriad of ways that the Veteran’s Administration failed him over the last thirty-some years, the complete catalog of which is too long to recite here.
Two weeks later, he was dead. He was a casualty nearly forty years late; the war that haunted his dreams for decades finally caught up with him. It didn’t have to be that way, though. I’m still pretty mad about that.
He was the fourth of my brothers to be drafted into a war notorious for its muddled mismanagement and its human wreckage. The United States government took my brothers and sent them back to us in pieces held together by their skin. One of them has a hat that says, “We, the unwilling, did the impossible for the ungrateful.”
We have no right to send our brothers and sisters off to do our collective dirty work for any but the most carefully considered reasons, and the highest purpose. We need to make damn sure about that. And once they’ve gone and come back, we need to do right by them. Their broken bodies and broken lives are the true cost of war, and they should not bear the slightest fraction more than they have to.
My father was a combat engineer in World War II…one of the people whose cleverness and cool practical work under fire helped win the war. He used to volunteer to take out snipers on the side. When he returned, so he told me, people would ask him what it was like. He quickly learned that they didn’t really want to know. They didn’t want to hear about how, when he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, he had to walk carefully to avoid stepping on the bodies of his comrades.
If you want to honor veterans, listen to their stories…especially the ones that make you uncomfortable. Don’t make them carry that burden as well. Contribute to charities that make a real difference in their lives, and pay attention when politicians vote to take away their benefits. Talk less, do more, listen more.