Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, 2007.

It may alternatively be describe as Veterans' Day, or Armistice Day.

Sufficient to say that, although this date (November 11) is generally reserved to honor American Military Veterans, it was originally intended to recognize the Armistice ... which occurred on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11) and acknowledged the surrender of the surrender of the German forces at the nominative end of World War One.

Since then, it has been alternative named Armistice Day and Veterans' Day, and has been the instrument of acknowledging the contributions of American Military Veterans.

So much for establishing cross-links between the date, the event, and the raison d'etre.

It may be useful to note that, since November 11, 2007, falls on a Sunday, this date and this event is formally recognized on Monday, November 12, 2007. Also, the union (Service Employee's International Union, or SEIU) in my home state, in negotiated agreement with my State employer) has 'traded' this day of observation in exchange for a Three Day Weekend, which this year is represented by The Day After Thanksgiving (a Friday). Much as it has 'traded' Presidents' Day for The Day After Christmas.

May I go on record as stating that I find this trade-off as an egregious exchange which disallows me from celebrating the entirely laudable option of celebrating the sacrifices of my fellow Americans in preference for a three-day weekend?

Okay, I've SAID that, but I don't really mean it.

I can celebrate the military sacrifice of my fellow Americans ... and some of my family ... anytime. The difference is that the Federal Government has 'adjusted' the legal holiday to fall on a week-day, so we can all rejoice in a paid holiday. And my union has negotiated the date so it falls on (this year) the Friday after Thanksgiving, so we can all enjoy a 4-day weekend.

I wonder how many of us, given the option, would take an unpaid day away from work to recognize and acknowledge the sacrifices of our friends and family, and people we never met, who gave their lives in support of their country, to protect the freedoms of their fellow man, and in service to their country?

Show of hands? Nobody? Probably not.

I know I wouldn't be comfortable with taking an unpaid day to recognize Veterans' Day. I am willing to wager that few of you who would be given the the option of working on V-Day, would be willing to take an unrecognized (unpaid) day off to march in a parade.

Perhaps I "under-misestimate" your patriotism, and if I do ... I apologize. I only offer my own poor integrity for your consideration.

It has been 37 years since I wore the uniform as a member of the American Military. Since then, I have chosen one single way to offer my own personal manner of recognizing the Sacrifice of Service.

There is a "Wall" (similar to, but smaller than, The Wall in Washington, DC) in a park in Portland, Oregon. This Wall lists the name of all Oregon servicemen and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam Conflict.

For over a decade, it was my habit to go to The Wall on the 11th hour (pm ... the dark of night) with a six-pack of cans of Budweiser Beer and a hard-pack of Marlboro Cigarettes, and a new book of matches.

I would 'infiltrate' the park area of The Wall, open the package of cigarettes and light and smoke one cigarette. Then I would open, and drink, one can of beer.

This was my way of 'sharing' with my past comrades a drink and a smoke.

I would then leave the (closed) pack of cigarettes, with matches, and the five remaining cans of beer, in memorial to my comrades. And I would then go home.

I assume that the remaining beer and cigarettes would be picked up by park employees the next day. They would either join me in imbibing, or throw everything away. (If I was park Maintenance Staff, I would throw it all away ... who knows where that stuff came from? I'm not talking!) I hoped that they would understand.

In recent years, I have not chosen this way to recognize the sacrifices of my fallen brothers. It seems too dramatic. Or it's disrespecting of the people who have to pick up after me.

Or it's too much trouble.

I probably don't do this any more because after thirty plus years, I've become too detached from the experience to feel the immediacy I felt before.

I'm reminded of the final scene of "Saving Private Ryan", where the Senior Citizen / Private James Francis Ryan comes to the military cemetery (in France?) and wails that he has spent his entire life in an attempt to "Earn This" ... the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers to save his life.

I do not wish to become a Private Ryan. I do not wish to 'earn' the sacrifice of my fellow soldiers. I saw them die in 1969, and never hope to be the REASON why I lived, while they died.

The point of a MOVIE is that your fellow soldiers gave their lives that you ('We', "I") might live.

And while it is true that men in combat most often risk/sacrifice their lives for their brothers, I can only hope that this "Band of Brothers" sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose than my personal survival.

I have seen men ... American Soldiers ... die in combat.

If I thought for one moment that they gave their lives for me, I would .... well, perhaps not be "unable" but certainly "not accept" that I was the reason for their gift of life.

Who could live with that burden?

And so I have put aside the burden of the sacrifice of my Brothers assuming that they have accepted the Ultimate Sacrifice for perhaps the meanest of reasons:

We were there. And it seemed to be The Thing To Do. We were young.

Had I been the one to die, I would never have wanted to put a 'guilt trip' on the men I/we fought and lived with and died before.

I hope I would have been so brave. I'm not sure. But I have too much with the men I knew in Vietnam to think otherwise.

Or perhaps I'm just getting too old to feel the pain ...

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