The Memorial Day in the US - by John Samuel Tieman

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Today is Memorial Day in the United States. We honor all who died in military service.

When sociologists, statisticians, and historians calculate the cost of war, they tally such things as wealth wasted, lives lost. There is truth to these calculations. There also is a more accurate way to calculate the cost of war.

When I first got home from Vietnam, when I was 20, I used to dwell on my war. Once, I wondered how well I could recall all that. For a few nights just before I fell asleep, I went through my war from the first day to last. I could recall each day. Sometime later, it occurred to me that I had finally gone 24 hours without dwelling upon Vietnam. I had been home for three years.

Now, the memories creep up on me every few weeks, like some Mephistopheles stalking a soul he already owns. Like this one day shortly before I retired. My school wanted to make a display of veterans on the faculty. They asked me for a medal to display. I brought them my Vietnamese Cross Of Gallantry. When I got home after work, I saw that a movie had taped. I wanted “Tigerland”, because its setting, Fort Polk, was where I did Basic Training. The movie was waiting for me, as was the novel “All Quiet On The Western Front”. I set the novel on my desk that morning. My wife never read it. I promised to read to Phoebe my favorite passage, the last chapter. Later, on “The Five O’clock News”, there was the story of a boy killed in Vietnam. They were bringing home, after all these years, his remains, bone fragments. And I wept. It all just crept up on me.

You would think that such memories would be most appropriate on the more suitable days like today, Memorial Day, or perhaps Veteran’s Day. I’ll not think of Eric any more on those days than I do on any other day. Or any other night. It is often at night when I remember them. Rob, who never knew the love of a good woman. Hank, who never lived in a house. Pete, who wasn’t there the day his daughter graduated from college. Because what remains is not the exact memory of war. Like so many memories, even the smell of cordite fades.

How do we calculate the impact of war upon war veterans? As the veteran's age, as we grow old, what remains is not the ghost that haunts us just before we sleep. We don't remember the face of a young man as much as we know the absence and feel the vacuum.

Often it will happen in the most unexpected of times. Five years after the war, a young man will graduate from college. As he waits his turn to walk across the stage, he will think how his war buddy won't go to college. Because his buddy died in the war. One night, ten or fifteen years after the war, as he sits quietly in his newly purchased home, he'll think how his war buddy will never own a home. Because his buddy died in the war. One day while watching a baseball game, one night while buying popcorn at a movie, one Sunday after church while walking in the park with his beloved wife, he'll remember.

But for those who need the tangible, for those who need the calculable, there is this measure. The war veteran visits a memorial. He runs his finger across the chiseled name of his fallen comrade. That old man standing before that name, that old man who still weeps for his war buddy, the buddy who died fifty years before, that sorrow, this heartache, add that to all those tears shed throughout all those decades. Then calculate the cost of war.

2021.05.31 / 11:14
John Samuel Tieman
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