Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day salutation

Dad didn't talk much about the war. When we did press him to talk about those days, about the worst he would tell was the story of his first day as a medic in the European theater. Apparently one of the guys trapped a bee as he took a swig out of his canteen. Dad's first patient died, killed not by a bullet, but a bee. Dad was at the Battle of the Bulge, but he never talked about it. My general impression is that those WWII vets, like Dad, just didn't talk about it much. And when they did talk, they told stories with a wry humor. In my husband's family, they talk about the uncle who rashly enlisted in the Navy only to discover he was terribly susceptible to seasickness.
My niece won an award from HBO for her high school interview with a WWII vet. He, too, was unassuming. His fascinating stories dealt not so much with the death of war but with being there for testing of the atomic bomb and having served in all the theaters of the war. These were the silent generation of war veterans.
The next generation of veterans of war were at a significant disadvantage because Vietnam was a "conflict" and not a war. It was a war that was not sold to the American people and the anger of citizens over the unpopular war spilled over on the vets. These mostly innocent fellows (and they were all fellows in those days) did not ask to fight in the war, they were forced into it through the draft system. Most of these guys don't talk much about their experiences, perhaps not wanting to relive the indignities they experienced. These were the veterans of my generation. These were the lost generation of veterans.
Today's vets volunteered to be where they are. There will be volumes written about their motivations for signing up in a time when the country was again fighting a war on two very different fronts. These vets, male and female, entered the military with eyes wide open about the war and eyes wide shut by their youth. As I talk to my niece, by Skype or on facebook or using any of the many options today's military have for communications, I see the maturity develop. This is her job, her way of making a better future for herself and for her son. She doesn't seem to think of this a "war to save the world from war," the way her grandfather's generation did, she seems to see this as a way to save herself and her family from the financial mess of their personal lives. Yet, as a medic like her grandfather, she is positioned to see the maladies, great and small, of war. She realizes that the medicine she practices in Iraq is beyond the medicine her contemporaries without military background practice. Today's soldiers are more likely to survive injuries that just ten years ago would have been fatal. These are the soldiers who have pushed medicine ahead by light years. We do not yet have a label for these veterans, history will write that label some years from now.
No matter what the label, these are the veterans. Volunteers or draftees, they have done their jobs. These are the reason we have a three day weekend called Memorial Day.

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