Memorial Day has so many memories for me. Where I grew up, in Haskell, N.J., the Memorial Day parade was one of the major events of our social scene. We lived right on the main street, Ringwood Avenue, and my grandparents lived next door, so it was always a great day, and tons of family and friends would come to our house and we would have a big family picnic.
I am not sure we were aware of what the day was about. Though I knew it was about the military, it seems to me my understanding was just it was a day to thank soldiers.
And I was happy to do that. One of my earliest memories of war is sitting on my grandparents kitchen table and making care packages to send to my uncle in Vietnam. We made cookies and I drew him pictures and we made reel-to-reel tapes of us talking and singing. And I can remember listening to a recording he sent back to us, and hearing explosions and gunfire in the background.
I was very close to my uncle. He was my father's younger brother and my godfather. And I remember going to the airport to pick him up when he came home from Vietnam.
He was different. Very quiet, not as quick to laugh. And now with the insight of adulthood, I can say he was traumatized and quite likely depressed. He never talked about Vietnam to me, but I think it was likely never far from his thoughts.
My grandfather and father were also veterans. My father stationed here in the States during Vietnam since he had children and my grandfather was part of the force that liberated Paris. I grew up listening to my grandmother's stories about the shortages and sacrifices they made during the war. And I read my aunt's diary about the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.
And I remember being in Colonial Williamsburg the day George Bush announced the invasion of Iraq.
There have been wars going on in one place or another my entire life. The only difference is we seem to be less aware and are not expected to have shortages or sacrifice anything. And I don't get that.
War should be noticeable. It should be about sacrifice. When there are men and women dying, we should be paying attention.
And we should be paying attention when they come home. We need to protect and care for our vets. We need to provide health care without months of waiting. We need to have counseling and job assistance. No vet should ever go hungry or be homeless.
I've written before, I think it should be illegal for Congress to be paid more than our troops, and I believe that when in harm's way our troops should be paid double. Our military should have the same exact or better health benefits and pension as Congress does.
Now that is patriotic. That is how we should be supporting our troops.
And I would do one other thing to honor and support our troops. I would not pay an outside contractor a dime.
Why are we subcontracting our national security to private profiteers?
War is ugly enough but to fight it for profit is obscene. We don't have to allow this. We have a choice. We need to use our weapons, our voice, our passion, our money, our time and our vote.
We need to honor our Veteran's and protect our troops.
I remember being in Washington, D.C., just after 9/11/2001. My father had died about three weeks earlier and I visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I knelt near the flame and just cried and cried. A man came over to me and asked if I had lost someone on 9/11. I explained that no, not that day, but that my father had recently died. "Was he military?" he wanted to know. "Yes, Army," I told him.
He patted me on the arm and told me it was okay to cry, that I should be proud to be there honoring my father and that he knew my father was very proud of me for being there, for crying, for being so brave. I have never forgotten that man and I wish I had gotten his name so I could have written and thanked him and told him how much his words meant to me.
I think war should be ugly. It should be hard and filled with sacrifice here at home so we don't forget those who are far from home. We should have to watch it every night as we did the Vietnam war. We should have to hear the explosions and gunfire. We should have to see every casket as it comes home, and we should hear about every injury.
I realize now my title is all wrong. There is no art in war.