Facebook and other internet outlets have been full of controversy all weekend. For the most part, I have stayed out of it, but before the next fight emerges, I have a simple observation to make:
Yes, this is the correct historical approach:
Moreover, the long- grieving families of those who died on a battlefield are justified in objecting to anyone who wishes them a “Happy Memorial Day.” This day is meant to be somber and reflective. It’s not about barbecued ribs or the kickoff for summer. It's about the dead.
But on the other side of the controversy are those who lived through the wars but who have been forever changed by the experience — "dead men walking," indeed.
On Memorial Day, should we honor the soldier who stepped on a land mine, but not recognize the soldier who came home from the war without so much as a Purple Heart? One who (like my own brother) was so mentally and emotionally damaged by his experiences at Iwo Jima that he never had the ability to get his life back on track. Hallucinations, nightmares, raging alcoholism, and unexplainable rages were his daily reality — and the reality for his family as well.
On Memorial Day, should we honor the sailor whose ship was torpedoed, but not honor the soldier who (like my husband) came home from his war unscathed? One who discovered too late that exposure to deadly chemicals in Vietnam had caused permanent and fatal deterioration of his heart muscle.
So, yes, those of you who support the historical meaning of Memorial Day, you are literally correct — right up to the point at which you deny your recognition and respect to those who didn’t suffer a quick and immediate death. Death on a battlefield is devastating, but so is the living death of a man who lives for sixty more years with the ravages of PTSD — and as well as for a man who lives for forty-five more years with the hovering threat of dropping dead without warning.
As you can see, this is all personal to me. When you say this to someone — “You’re wrong. It’s not your day.” — you are talking about my family. Both the men in the examples above are my veterans who now lie buried in national cemeteries, and yes, they both received their little flags this weekend to honor their sacrifice. But while they lived, they carried their war damage with them every day. Please — next year — before you criticize a living veteran for expecting to be honored on the “wrong” day, remember that a living veteran may well be a dead man walking.