Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

I sometimes think I should have gone to war. Every generation before me did and seemed to treat it as a rite of passage. My maternal grandfather flew in the Army Air Corps, my paternal grandfather fought under Patton, and Dad was a Marine in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967.

The only war I've seen is that which rages at law school: blowhard egomaniacs trying to prove each other wrong on some obscure and ultimately meaningless point of law.

The notion that "men go to war" seems the product of a bygone era. Of course, I don't know if that's how people felt 90 or 70 years ago, I'm just making an uneducated guess based on all the old movies I've seen. And certainly by the end of the Vietnam War, it seemed like people no longer thought this way.

Granddad didn't speak a whole lot about flying all those missions in the Army Air Corps. And Dad doesn't talk about Vietnam much. To them, it was just one of those things they did. Almost as if these were things expected of them.


Today, most people treat Memorial Day as just part of a long weekend that signifies the start of beach season as opposed to a day to commemorate the men and women who died while serving. I can't condemn too harshly here, because I've done this myself. And though writing a blog post about Memorial Day is a feeble thing, I did want to take this opportunity to thank all the men and women who have ever put on a uniform. You have done this country a great service.


seanag said...

Well, as I suppose you might imagine, I am not the biggest advocate of men--or women--going off to war, but I do understand how you might wonder about it as a rite of passage. I'm not sure how men cope with coming from a family of military traditions. Interestingly, my parents both did serve in the military, though neither saw combat, yet there was no expectation that any of us would enlist. However, Vietnam, not WWII was the war that overshadowed everyone's thinking. I wasn't old enough for any of my classmates to be drafted, but I did have a few friends with older brothers who went, and one went for the same kinds of conscientious reasons you might have enlisted. He wasn't a big believer in the war, but felt wrong to dodge it. Unfortunately, he died there. I have a very interesting relation to this man I never met, because my friend showed me some of his prewar letters, and a few from Vietnam. It struck me, reading them, that this was the kind of guy I might have met, and liked and married, so he and others like him become the sort of missing suitors for a whole generation of women. I'm not saying there was a huge likelihood, but kind of, this was a person who, but for war I might have known, but who was missing.

Hope this doesn't sound like I am trying to start up an argument. I think that in our different ways, we are celebrating Memorial Day, not as a consumer holiday, but as a remembrance of soldiers.

Brian O'Rourke said...


That is a very interesting story, and it's strange to think there was, as a result of war, a sizable chunk of the population missing representing people you might have met, known, befriended, loved, etc.

I hope I didn't give the impression that I'm a warmonger. When I say "should have gone to war," I don't even mean the specific wars being fought right now--I meant it more in the abstract sense, if such a thing exists. What's strange about my having this sort of sentiment is that no one ever pressured me to join the armed services.

seanag said...

No, I didn't think you were a warmonger at all. I understand the wistfulness. Have you ever read the book by Chris Hedges called 'War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning'? (Title might be slightly different.) He's not a warmonger either, but I think you might find him interesting.