To others Memorial Day has a meaning quite apart from celebration, big-store sales and 500 mile motorsport races. It is a time to remember lost family members. And to many it is a day to reflect on past events and lost comrades.
It is difficult for veterans of war to speak of the bad days. When they do, it's for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes it's self-therapy, sometimes it's the need to experience an irrational feeling of guilt, sometimes it's an attempt to verify one's very participation in something that, in the end, probably wasn't necessary and sometimes, it's just to provide a picture of war others will never know if the only exposure they have is a television or a video game.
These stories come from two veterans of war. Read on and feel the absence of glory. Learn.
From Rez Dog:
I really never knew him but he has been my companion for many years.And from Minstrelboy:
Some say he was an asshole jerk. I can't say for sure.
All I know is that the brief time we were together left a lasting impression.
You see, I watched him die.
His death was not dramatic or heroic. Just dumb.
An accident in a war filled with many accidents.
The difference was that I saw it happen.
I watched him die.
He fell out of a helicopter that was his ticket to safety.
A medical evacation for a minor cut,
Hardly even a wound,
A convenient excuse to get out of the jungle.
But nobody expected him to die.
We watched him rising toward the chopper
Cursing his good fortune, each of us
Wishing that we were ascending in his place.
The chopper's big rotors slapped the air
As it hovered above the moutainside.
Its turbines screaming,
Waiting to carry him back to the rear.
I saw the medic leaning out of the door.
I saw the medic reach out to pull him in.
I saw him put his feet on the skids.
And I saw him fall away from the chopper.
He fell abruptly, violently.
No slo mo effect. No eternity to reach the ground.
Just a rapid free fall and a bone crunching THUD.
Mere seconds ended his life at 19.
We wrapped him in a poncho
And hooked him to the cable again.
This time he made it,
Boots pointing upward as they disappeared into the open door.
But this time was too late.
The chopper carried away a corpse,
Leaving us to our thoughts, black and evil.
No one wanted to trade places with him now.
All these years I've remembered his fall
And seen his body break upon
That nameless mountain.
All these years his death has been my companion.
I did not know him well
But he remains with me still.
Even now all I really know is that I saw him die.
That seems to be more than enough.
Timmy was following all the rules I had taught him. He wasn't on the trails, he was walking carefully through the heavier brush. He stepped on a mine anyway. We all froze and began to carefully crawl to where he was. One leg was completely blown off and he was bleeding badly. I called to him to lie still. He didn't. He was screaming in pain and fear and he was trying frantically to locate his lower leg. He triggered another mine, this time with his torso. That killed him.
We carefully worked our way to his body without setting off any other mines. By that time a chopper with a medical team had landed nearby. All we were able to do was to get his entire body collected. The chopper team guys came and started to put Timmy into a body bag. I told them to stop. They looked at me in annoyance. That was as far as they went with their expression. I guess the look on my face suggested to them that silence was the safest course of action.
I put him into the bag myself. Slowly. Gently. Then, before transferring his torso to the bag, I took my canteen and a scrap of Timmy's field blouse. I washed his face and put his cap on. Then I handed his dog tags to the chopper crew. I told them "Thank you for that moment. Carry on."
I wrote to Timmy's family to tell them how sorry I was that their son had been killed. Later, once I was out and back in the world I stopped in to meet them and invite them to a show that I was playing there.
For a couple of weeks, in a brutal war zone, the presence of one young man made an impact on me that I doubt I have been able to describe. Just by being young and clean he drew me out of a very thick, hard shell that I had formed. By being an innocent he reminded me that there was still some innocence left in the world.