Memorial Day- Thank You To Our Service People

The children and I had a long talk about both Veteran’s and Memorial Day and why we observe them. I want them to understand that there is a point and purpose to having  a military. I want them to recognize that when we say that Freedom isn’t Free it is not some foolish statement that people just say. I want them to understand the difference between patriotism and flag waving.  I want them to recognize that even if we don’t agree with the government we respect those who give back for us.

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His name was Mark. He was a 36 year-old army medic who was waiting to head off to Afghanistan. I remember talking to him about it and asking if he was eligible to a longer stay stateside. He had already done two tours in Iraq and it was clear to me that his time over there had hurt him. It wasn’t the physical pain that I worried about. He had been injured in Baghdad but not so severely that he couldn’t play basketball with us.

I suppose that you could call us gym friends. We didn’t hang out together outside of the gym, but inside it wasn’t unusual to find us together. We liked to play on the same team. Even though he was far more talented than I was our skills complemented each other. In a half court game all we needed was one other solid role player and we were tough to beat.

It was sort of a funny match to me because before he became a solider I wanted to smack him silly. He was younger than I was and obnoxious in a way that just set me off. But the service changed him or maybe it is better to say that whatever he saw/experienced changed him. I can’t really tell you what that was because I only know small pieces of it.

What I do know is that prior to 9/11 he was a software engineer who was single and earning a lot of cash. But after the towers fell he felt an obligation to give something back and he chose the military. Off he went to boot camp and to wherever it was Uncle Sam sent him afterwards.  Must have been gone for quite a while because I don’t think that I saw him again until after his first tour of Iraq.

It feels a little foolish describing it like some sort of concert tour because presumably a tour is fun while war is not.

The guy who came back from that first tour was very different than the one I knew before that. He would tell me that he didn’t know what to do with himself and that he couldn’t sleep. I told him that I would listen to whatever stories he felt comfortable sharing and suggested that he find someone to speak with who understood what he had been through. I have seen and experienced some very nasty things but combat isn’t one of them.

At the end of May 2009 I left the gym. Mark hadn’t left for Afghanistan yet. I told him that I was cancelling my membership and asked if I could buy him a beer. Said that we should exchange email addresses and that when he had a moment he could drop me a line and tell me if he had kicked Osama’s ass for me yet.

He never showed up at the bar so I didn’t buy him that beer I wanted to. I didn’t have a cellphone number for him or an email address- nor did I know anyone who did.  The upshot of it all is that I don’t know what happened to Mark. But I hope that he kept his head down and his ass out of the line of fire.

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I am grateful and appreciative to all of our soldiers past and present. Medical advances are saving a lot of them who in wars past wouldn’t have come home. But I wonder and worry about them. We might be doing a better job of saving their lives but what happens to their minds. It can’t be good. I just hope that Uncle Sam does a better job of providing them with resources that can give those who need help the assistance that they require.

On a related note I have been thinking about how Israel celebrates their memorial day, Yom Hazikaron. There are a number of different events but the one I want to highlight is the siren that goes off all over the country so that people can observe a national moment of silence. Take a look at the videos below and you’ll see traffic come to a halt and people standing still.

It is a nice gesture to see everyone stop and recognize the sacrifices that were made. Thank you again to all those who serve, we appreciate it.

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Comments

  1. Columbiarose says:

    “Your silent tents of green
    We deck with fragrant flowers;
    Yours has the suffering been,
    The memory shall be ours.”

    – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  2. Columbiarose says:

    “Your silent tents of green
    We deck with fragrant flowers;
    Yours has the suffering been,
    The memory shall be ours.”

    – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  3. I too worry about the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The psychological trauma can be just as devastating as the physical injuries. My stepdad served in Vietnam and was deeply affected emotionally. As a cook, he saw much less combat than most, yet still he came back forever traumatized. Thank you for sharing your story about Mark–it’s important to always recognize the sacrifices so many are willing to make.

    The videos from Israel’s memorial day are amazing. I had never seen this before, so I appreciate learning something new.

    • @marianneworley:disqus I have listened to a bunch of Vietnam vets talk a number of times and it has always been clear that many are still damaged.

      Mark knew that he was broken and figured that he wasn’t coming back home. I always hoped that it was just talk, but I never knew for certain.

      The videos are powerful. When everyone around stops it has a real impact.

  4. I too worry about the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The psychological trauma can be just as devastating as the physical injuries. My stepdad served in Vietnam and was deeply affected emotionally. As a cook, he saw much less combat than most, yet still he came back forever traumatized. Thank you for sharing your story about Mark–it’s important to always recognize the sacrifices so many are willing to make.

    The videos from Israel’s memorial day are amazing. I had never seen this before, so I appreciate learning something new.

    • @marianneworley:disqus I have listened to a bunch of Vietnam vets talk a number of times and it has always been clear that many are still damaged.

      Mark knew that he was broken and figured that he wasn’t coming back home. I always hoped that it was just talk, but I never knew for certain.

      The videos are powerful. When everyone around stops it has a real impact.

  5. The same conversations and concerns were in my heart and my post today. I think it’s so important to help our children understand. Thanks for sharing Mark’s story. It’s a perfect reminder of who it is that is serving us today.

    I’m also grateful you posted the videos from Israel. I had to make myself be patient enough to sit through the silence they reverently honored. I hate to admit that I’m wound so tight that being still with them was a challenge. I wonder if we could pull off such a sacrifice of our addiction to noise, movement and multitasking in the U.S.? I’d love to see us give it a try.

    • @MimiMeredithAZ:disqus I want my children to understand that we are privileged in many ways and that we we need to give back.  They understand some of that but haven’t gotten the full import and impact yet. But they will.

      One of the big differences between here and Israel is that it is virtually impossible in Israel not to have personal connections to soldiers in ways that we don’t here.

      When things happen I worry about family/friends there because they are at risk. In the US it is easy to forget that we are at war. That is not a value judgement- the population and geographic size differential has a big impact.

      But that siren and the vast participation in the moment of silence makes a huge difference too.

  6. The same conversations and concerns were in my heart and my post today. I think it’s so important to help our children understand. Thanks for sharing Mark’s story. It’s a perfect reminder of who it is that is serving us today.

    I’m also grateful you posted the videos from Israel. I had to make myself be patient enough to sit through the silence they reverently honored. I hate to admit that I’m wound so tight that being still with them was a challenge. I wonder if we could pull off such a sacrifice of our addiction to noise, movement and multitasking in the U.S.? I’d love to see us give it a try.

    • @MimiMeredithAZ:disqus I want my children to understand that we are privileged in many ways and that we we need to give back.  They understand some of that but haven’t gotten the full import and impact yet. But they will.

      One of the big differences between here and Israel is that it is virtually impossible in Israel not to have personal connections to soldiers in ways that we don’t here.

      When things happen I worry about family/friends there because they are at risk. In the US it is easy to forget that we are at war. That is not a value judgement- the population and geographic size differential has a big impact.

      But that siren and the vast participation in the moment of silence makes a huge difference too.

  7. You make such a critical point here about the emotional scars that so many of our servicemen and -women carry with them.  Personally, I can’t imagine the transition between being in a fire fight and shopping for groceries.

    Good for you for talking to your kids about the sacrifices of our soldiers today.  I broached the subject with my oldest, but found myself about to go down a dangerous road about killing and death.  So instead I drew a comparison between our armed forces and the knights who defend his Lego castle.  Oh well, the best laid plans…

    • @Motherese_Kristen:disqus I have known more than a couple of soldiers and seen some pretty awful transitions back to society. I don’t know what they saw and I don’t judge them for having trouble.

      But I hope that they get help for themselves.

      As for the kids, well mine are older than yours so some of this is probably “easier” in some respects to discuss. Had to explain a gas chamber once, that was no fun at all.

  8. You make such a critical point here about the emotional scars that so many of our servicemen and -women carry with them.  Personally, I can’t imagine the transition between being in a fire fight and shopping for groceries.

    Good for you for talking to your kids about the sacrifices of our soldiers today.  I broached the subject with my oldest, but found myself about to go down a dangerous road about killing and death.  So instead I drew a comparison between our armed forces and the knights who defend his Lego castle.  Oh well, the best laid plans…

    • @Motherese_Kristen:disqus I have known more than a couple of soldiers and seen some pretty awful transitions back to society. I don’t know what they saw and I don’t judge them for having trouble.

      But I hope that they get help for themselves.

      As for the kids, well mine are older than yours so some of this is probably “easier” in some respects to discuss. Had to explain a gas chamber once, that was no fun at all.

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