Honoring Our Military Dead (Part II)
Tomorrow on Memorial Day, I’ll be making offerings for my warriors, my military dead at that special section of my ancestor shrine that I have set aside to honor those who served in war. Technically, Memorial Day honors those who died during their service in the US military, and so my focus will be those who died whilst serving in a war (I honor more than just US military dead at my ancestor shrine).
Our local cemetery committee is working with the local boy scout troop to see that little American flags are placed at the grave of every veteran in each of our local cemeteries and in the next town over, a large lawn at the main intersection of town has been decorated with hundreds of white crosses to honor those fallen. People could email the names of their military dead to coordinators who would then have a marker placed for that person for free. I did not do it because all of my recent military dead survived the wars in which they fought.
I sometimes wonder though how we should count, what we should count as “died in battle.” What about those soldiers who come home suffering PTSD? How much of themselves did they leave on the fields in which they fought? What about soldiers who commit suicide later, or die of injuries sustained in battle? Can we count them too? When you bring the horror of war home with you, when you’ve never really left the battlefield, or when the battlefield follows you home, what then?
My father fought in WWII and Korea, came home, worked at Aberdeen Proving ground until he retired decades later. Before his death in 2005 he returned to the trenches of WWII, reliving his active duty (to the terror of his nurses).
I think our soldiers are a unique and elite “club.” They’re bound together by blood and terror and sometimes they bring that terror home. Neither my father nor my uncle (who served in Vietnam) would ever speak about their military service. I don’t think they wanted what they had seen and experienced to find a way into our minds, to traumatize us as it had them. It was only with other soldiers that they could relax and I’ve seen this camaraderie and support amongst living military too, sometimes as soon as they meet. There is an understanding there.
One of the things that I always try to do, both on Veterans Day and Memorial Day (in addition to my offerings at my ancestor shrine and copious prayers for the dead) is to donate to a charity that supports our living veterans. This year I decided on Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VFW. They do a lot of good work for our returning vets. The latter also helps to remember and memorialize our military dead. These are good things, necessary things.
I’m going to end with a quote from a requiem for the dead. Remember them.
“Carry the dead with us. Carry the dead. Never not carry them,
never not act in their name.
Carry the dead in our dreams, all the great deeds; carry the dead in our days,
all the great deeds.
Morning, morning. Let there be their light.
What they would want, what they would ask of us, carry them with us,
never not bring them along.
Never for nothing their brutal departures. Never let justice go lonely.
Ever the heart, ever the spirit, ever the longing. . Earth is not past,
not a ghost, not lost to us.
Ever the believing.
(“Credo Coda,” Michael Dennis Browne)