Happy Memorial Day weekend. 350 active troops committed suicide in 2012 . Like President Obama said in his speech this week war has its collateral damage. But it’s not only drones. It’s suicide.
For years I had no conscience about the military or vets. I hated the Vietnam War. Like many kids of the 60’s I despised the draft and needless slaughter. But I never put two and two together and thought of honoring vets and those in the military till I saw the Vietnam memorial.
The black stone stunned me the night I went ,the dead listed by their death rather than alphabetically made me see it as an altar. It was a slab to the scar the Vietnam War where people left flowers, pictures, and heels from proms. I helped create that scar by not honoring the living or dead.
They were in my family and me- a different war- many different wars.. I’ve changed. I still hate why we went to war, go to war. killed and continue to kill so many people but I don’t hate the men and women that served or who continue to serve.
Instead of a barbecue, I now think of as my cousin who served in Viet Nam’s Phoenix Program and could hardly speak of “the horror”In his 60’s .He was like Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness, brilliantly recreated by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocolypse Now
“The horror” hit my Dad and Mom in 1945. Their marriage dissolved but never ended when he came home 89 pounds and mute after World War Two. It follows me to this day and in many ways killed my brother.My dad was a POW in Germany’s Stalag 17 during World War II, when I was born. My mother, brother, and I suffered along with him for over 50 years due to the devastation wreaked on his mind.
I pay tribute to my paternal grandfather felled by sunstroke in World War One . He was operated on by an army doctor who had no idea how to do spinals. My grandfather was declared legally insane all his life. His pension was kept by a bank in Philadelphia because my grandmother had a 4th grade education. My maternal grandfather had shrapnel in his head from WW I and for 50 years was also permanently disabled . In spite of the metal in his brain, he got no promised bonus. He took my mother and his family to protest with the Bonus Army in Washington, where my grandparents and 12 year old mother’s tent was burned to the ground by Eisenhower on his horse.
I would also like to dedicate my blog to all the families of suicide in the military with veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, the Gulf War, the war in Iraq and the present war in Afghanistan-whose wholeness was shattered- is shattered- by mental and physical combat wounds. Those Iraq war victims might be haunted by specters in the future that visit adult kids like me.
As a staggering 45 % of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have applied for disability and it takes them a year or more to get it, if they don’t kill themselves first,the Bonus Army’s cause of 100 years ago lives on today.
I hope they don’t wait the 10 years it took my father to get disability, when I finally got him to apply at 65.
Think about all this as you celebrate.
Happy Memorial Day Harry V Cress . He is pictured above on his 85th birthday, the year he died.