Many of us who served lost friends or acquaintances or people we served with. Whether by direct enemy action, or in a landing accident on a carrier, or an equipment failure in one of our machines of war, or by a mistake by someone on our side, and when it happened, generally, we paused and said, “Phooey.” Then we went back to work. As if it didn’t matter. It did matter to lose that person, though.
And I don’t know if it’s right to say I stuck those dead people in a box and stuck the box in the attic of my mind and hoped they’d stay and I’d never go up there. Maybe it’s more like those people ripped a hole in my heart and the hole filled with a piece of the soul of the deceased. Whichever way, I know if you live long enough, you will go to the attic, you will feel the chunk of the other person’s soul writhe within you like a baby in the womb.
I was a sailor, not a soldier or a marine, but I like to think I understand at least a little, what possesses a married man with two kids to jump on a grenade to save the bachelor seventeen year old fighting next to him.
Not all of us entered the service because we were patriots and we wanted to preserve freedom. Whether we came in to learn a trade or because the judge said, “Son, enlist or you’re going to jail,” most of the people I served with became patriots if they weren’t one already. But when the bullets are flying, lofty purposes are in the footlocker back at base. When the bullets are flying, it’s gritty and elemental. None of us want to die, but when it comes right down to it, our buddy matters more. A grenade flew into the trench. He didn’t hesitate. He did what needed doing.
Memorial Day, a day to remember all of them, and to remember that it really was a high purpose they served, and still do today.
As long as we remember.