Almost 30 years ago, on Christmas Day, just before I left the East Coast for good, I finally mustered the gumption to visit the (then new) Vietnam Memorial in DC. I figured nobody would be there, and I was right... it was cold as hell- that kind of humid, icy cold in the low teens that slices through your sinuses and burns the lungs with each breath. As light snow flurries slowly began to fall and while the rest of the city was opening their presents, sipping their toddies and enjoying their morning festivities, I leisurely walked toward the monument, trying to kill a few hours before my flight for California took off from National.
I hadn't been entirely sure how I'd react - a part of me wanted to turn around, get back on the Metro and wait in the warm comfort of the terminal, but something drew me there anyway. I couldn't have anticipated what would happen as my trudging feet left dark footprints on the light dusting of snow....
It had taken me some time to arrive at the point where I thought I could handle it; I'd been out of the Navy for about 10 years then and I'd lost several shipmates in that particular conflict - performing tasks that by today's standards were "non-Naval" in character. I found some of them on that wall - traced each engraved name with a finger and hoped that they were in a better place. Then as I turned around to leave, I spotted an unexpected name out of the corner of my eye- and that's when I lost it. I knew he'd enlisted right after he got out of high school in ’69 - he joined the Marines because that's what his dad did during the Korean war in '51. There always seems to be something about the genetic predisposition of people who have Corps blood in them: I dunno... but I always wondered what had happened to him. I'd imagined he'd done his tour, was discharged somewhere else, gotten married to some hot, curvy redhead, got a job and had a bunch of kids like he always used to daydream.
What made this one particularly hard to stomach was that Tommy and I had been in a band together in high school, pimping folk music for cigarette money at local taverns and coffee houses. We were great friends and shared several classes - and when I needed a date for his grad night in high school, he conned his kid sister into going with me and we wound up having a lot of fun together that evening - four friends having a blast. We were as close to being family without biological ties as people could get. But then, to see his name up there as one more casualty in a senseless, contrived "police action" and realize that someone with whom I had a personal history during an all too brief period of innocence had wound up as another sacrificial meat offering to Nixon and his brass-hat jackals in the Pentagon so they could test and develop new weapons systems was the final straw.
Two hours later as the aircraft's landing gear were retracting into the wheel wells, gaining altitude and vectoring westward over northern Virginia, I felt an extreme need to take a shower and cleanse myself of the sorrow, pain and anger that was washing over me. Instead I gulped down a couple of gin gimlets to help deal with it until my arrival in San Francisco - thanking God for first class perks. I never looked back, and I’ve never returned. To this day, 30 years later, it’s still too damned evocative. Once was quite enough.
Much has been said about patriotism for the last dozen or so years in this country and, not surprisingly, the ones who bark the loudest in their endorsement of perpetuating our brand of insanity called "Homeland Security" have the greatest proportion among them who have never lifted a weapon against an enemy of our Country or served a single minute in her defense. Indeed the definition of the word "patriot" frequently shifts during nation-changing events, and 9-11 was (and continues to be) one of those events; however history continues to prove that wars are more frequently won and kept short by practiced strategy, wise use of resources, cunning, deception and skill instead of singular brute force. As a nation we've tolerated over a decade of horrifyingly expensive brute force and in the process drained our nation’s treasure, sullied our image abroad and weakened our internal compass - by allowing ourselves to relinquish our liberty for security we have become both "broke" and "broken". And to this day we still can't seem to find the resources to properly care for our living, surviving veterans for no other reason than political enmity.
Given this country's track record of international policy going back to 1948: recognizing that almost all of the conflicts this country have fought since then have resulted in squandering our resources in the pursuit of doctrine instead of vanquishing our enemies in the pursuit of preserving our quality of life, it should be obvious by now (altruistic though it may be) that we have no business spending another dime of our tax money or spilling another drop of our warrior’s blood on anyone outside our borders until all of our own people are educated, fed, healthy, employed and well-represented in the halls of our government. I suspect that the effects of thousands of defense contractor lobbyists peddling corporate influence in the halls of Congress wasn't what Madison, Jefferson or the rest of the architects of our government ever had in mind; but anyone who casually studies recent history, however, will recall the results of what 20 years of corporate fascism did for Italy and how it ended in Milan on April 28, 1945. How long it will take for the people in this country to arrive at that same conclusion is anybody's guess.
An unimaginable amount of blood has been spilled throughout the history of this country to enable every United States citizen to pontificate their opinions on thus and so. Some of it is frequently thoughtful and insightful; some of it is sophomoric and idealistic - still others are vulgar and regressive... but all of it has been bought and paid for by some citizen-soldier, airman, marine or sailor's blood. This Memorial Day must be a time to remember that. But until the day arrives when the majority of Americans understand that we are being played for fools by trans-national corporations, the people we’ve elected under false pretenses to represent us, our justice system, our banks, our insurance companies and special interests to perpetuate international conflicts so that a few shadow banksters can become unbelievably wealthy, the very principles for which all those men and women who gave their last full measure will continue to be at grave risk.
Semper fi, Tommy. Your voice, your chops and your courage are not forgotten.