Around Memorial Day, I begin to think with greater frequency of the seven friends of mine, including a cousin, whose names are forever etched in the highly-polished black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
They are among the 58,279 (updated in 2020) who perished a half-century ago now.
On May 31st, many made their annual pilgrimage to cemeteries far and wide to hear patriotic speeches and lay flowers on the markers of relatives and friends, military as well as civilians.
But for some of our veterans, every day is Memorial Day – their intense combat experiences have lingered near the surface for years.
My personal association with the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield came during the Vietnam Era, but deadly conflicts have cut a terrible path through every generation of the 20th century, and right up to the present.
Maybe the most important volunteer program I’ve ever been involved with is the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Vet’s Home Visitations. For the past year, however, those in-home visits have been replaced by the phone and facetime, but the connections remain. And I must say, these regular contacts go a long way in easing my own survivor’s guilt.
Our conversations take us in many different directions and down numerous rabbit holes. But several themes are common.
First off, they feel the patriots who did not come back from overseas are the true national heroes, and the families left to grieve are too often forgotten. The mothers and fathers of these brave youngsters lost their futures, too.
A 96-year-old Navy veteran of World War II on my calling list often reflects on how young the casualties were. Barely out of high school, some “never had a girlfriend, never owned a car, never even had a chance to do such All-American things as embark on adventures or make mistakes.”
My Korean War contact bemoans the lack of civic and Constitutional knowledge by many today, beginning with the basic branches of government and their roles. And we’re in agreement that a fellow GI is a good sounding board for issues like flag desecration, which frustrates most past and present military. For me, Old Glory is more than colors on cloth. In the sacred red, I’m reminded of the bloodshed by those I knew who were denied the simple joy of coming home.
And we voice support for the ongoing efforts of our service organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the VA, as they work to come to grips with one of the most serious health concerns facing our troops, active or discharged: Suicide.
Many of you readers have your own thoughts on Memorial Day that are far more profound than what I’ve offered here. I hope cherished memories are a comfort to you.
Sgt. Dale Farnham’s name is carved in D.C., but he was laid to rest in Albert Lea. For me, the last Monday in May marked a good day to salute a brave cousin in southern Minnesota.
St. Louis Park resident Bruce Lindquist is a retired newspaper editor and a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.