Memorial Day 2022 hits a wholllle different way than any previous year of my life.
Wikipedia tells me “Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States for mourning the U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the United States armed forces.”
Well, over the years, it’s become this “holiday” for sales and cookouts and a long weekend and a “kickoff to summer” and such…at least, that’s how it’s felt.
Dad served in the US Navy for 21 years. From what I’ve always understood, he served in Vietnam; on an ammo ship. I mainly remember that he used to say that had the ship he was on been hit, he would never have known it. AND I never gave it MUCH thought.
As a kid, it was simply “a fact.” Dad had been in the Navy. I was there at his retirement party in 1991. Nevvvvvver thought about him being killed in Vietnam…cuz obviously if that’d happened, I wouldn’t even exist.
One of those things that I just took at face value, nothing deep, it just “was.”
But then in college, I took this “Literature of War” course with Dr. Brett Holden. The textbook for the course was The Norton Book of Modern War, edited by Paul Fussel. The book–and course–went through the experience of soldiers who’d served in wars; especially World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. And the traumas they went through. The book is comprised of stuff written by actual veterans, primarily telling their own stories–through poetry (Sassoon’s “Aftermath: March 1919” still gets me to this day…as does Dulce et Decorum Est) or other accounts. I believe there was an excerpt from All Quiet on the Western Front, which while a fictional story was still more than relevant.
Long story short, I ended up spending FOUR SEMESTERS with the class. That first simply taking it…and the following 3 as a “TA.” Two years…Half the time I was an undergrad involved the course directly.
I have so many memories about stuff I (still) associate with that class.
But the POINT here, now, is: it gave me insight.
I was never military myself.
Never been through any of that. None of the training, none of the discipline, none of the experience.
And Dad was never highly talkative about it, especially Vietnam…except that I always remember how HE seemed to always remember the derision and spitting and such on return. He never got a parade. He was never recognized for his service to this country.
It wasn’t until…maybe 2002? 2003? I remember him talking about going to the Magic Moondog Coronation Ball with Mom the one year, and they’d asked Vietnam vets to stand to be recognized…and that that was the first time for him BEING recognized, like that.
I also remember his strong recommendation to me to NOT go into the military. I’m sure I would’ve tried, if only for him…but he knew me, my personality, and he didn’t see me being happy that way, and so not only did not encourage me to follow in his (and Grandpa’s) footsteps, he actively guided me AWAY from it.
But in so doing, he (maybe unwittingly) taught me another lesson: to have that much more respect for our nation’s military, for the men and women who DO and HAVE served…because I myself DID NOT.
And it was much more the last few years or so, maybe back 10 or so, that it seemed like the word “veteran” took on a lot of new meaning for me. In the way I saw Dad, and thought about him, and saw him with others.
“Veteran” was by no means his “identity,” but I came to realize what a big part of him it actually WAS, and how so much affected him, and through him, ME. I learned so much about him–from him–the last few years that I was totally oblivious to as a kid; that I never saw deeper or looked deeper or anything beyond “face value.”
Maybe Memorial Day is supposed to be about those that died in combat, during wartime.
Maybe someone would see me making this about Dad, who died in a hospital room with me and Mom present, a little under 32 years after he officially retired from the US Navy, as out of place.
But the stuff he saw, was exposed to…figuratively and literally. Agent Orange. The impact that exposure came to have over the last 10-15 years; maybe I’m overly romanticizing it but sometimes I wonder if it’d really be entirely inappropriate to say that he WAS killed in Vietnam…but he was blessed with 50-some years of borrowed time.
Almost certainly the four years we got, from December 12, 2017 until Christmas time 2021, were that blessing of borrowed time.
So what am I trying to say here?
I don’t really know. Just sitting at a computer banging out words on a keyboard, trying to express some fraction of overall thoughts in some sort of hopefully-slightly-coherent way.
He was proud of his country, his service, his time. He loved Mom, and me, and my sister. He told me to the point of embarrassment how proud he was of me, to be my father.
Yet even here, 5 months later, I don’t feel like I’ve got the proper words, in the proper order, in the proper way.
I hate to say that it’s “fitting,” but I can’t help but notice that today–Memorial Day–May 30–marks 5 months since we lost him. December 30.
Technically last night into this morning.
Dad never was “thrilled” with my long beard. He often asked why I don’t trim it or such; he’d express how much he preferred how I looked with a shorter beard or no beard.
Part of me’d contemplated trimming it down back in December/early January…but I didn’t want it to be some spur of the moment thing done in the blind horror of initial grief and such.
But amidst so many factors–Dad being only one of them–I did finally cut it back to the shortest it’s been since December 2017.
Hardly “in honor of” him nor “because of” him…but I think he’d have liked this.
Still, I can’t help but feel sorry that it was losing him, plus five months, to ultimately make that change.
So many cliche words and phrases and ways of expression.
But I’m me.
This is me.
A son missing his Dad.
All over the place.
No good closing, so just gonna end this post here.