“I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life. People back home will wonder why you can’t forget.” — E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed
“So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and wrath his soul changed.”
— Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
I’m not a veteran of war. I chose a path that took me far from the battlefields of modern armies. I wonder at the courage of those who charged towards an almost certain death, thinking that perhaps they had something in them that is beyond my capacity to endure and fight another day. I suppose all of us blessed to have never fought in war are also given the curse of wondering just what we might have done under the same circumstances. May we and those we love never find out. May the world rise above the conflicts of mankind and bow to love instead. We have a long way to go.
We learned to honor our veterans growing up. They fought in the big wars we learned about in history class. They were my uncles coming home again, not really speaking much about what they experienced. We read about war in books like All Quiet on the Western Front and think we understand what a veteran will never say. There’s a chasm there that humanity should never cross, and those who have been there and survived bring it back with them. Who are we to ask what it was like for them?
If Memorial Day honors those who paid the ultimate price, Veterans Day honors those who came home again. On Veterans Day I think of the people in my life who served. Some were wounded, and some lived a lifetime shortened by Agent Orange or other demons hard to define. All carry something of themselves from that time in their lives that we can’t really understand not having been there with them.
We are the sum of our experiences. Veterans have experienced a sum of things most of us will never understand. To wear a remembrance poppy or to thank someone for their service seems a small gesture, but when done with sincerity and grace, it’s noticed by those who sacrificed so much in their time. No, I’m not a veteran, but I will remember, honor and support those who were. Thank you.