Remembering their legacy

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On Memorial Day, we remembered the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice. While we honor their sacrifices, let us also keep in mind the importance of honoring their legacy by remembering their unique place as family members and friends of people who miss them.

Vietnam veteran Jim Crigler recently made the news with his 2,000 mi+ trip down the Mississippi River, handing out Gold Stars to family members of fallen service members. His touching tribute serves as a reminder that their sacrifices should never be forgotten, nor should their faithful service be taken for granted.

Even if we have deceased former military members that were part of our families who didn’t die in battle, we must not forget that they, too, felt the burden of the costs of war. Regardless of whether it was in the form of readjusting to civilian life, coping with the effects of addiction or mental illness, or living with a disability, many now-departed veterans struggled and left behind family members who must also cope with struggles of their own.

Meaningful tributes to both war dead and deceased veterans matter to families. In addition to the typical military awards, tributes that involve commemorating the service member’s life outside the military are often very meaningful.

For example, remembering someone only as “Jim, retired Staff Sargeant, United States Army” says less about them as a whole person than “Jim, a dad, dog lover, avid reader and Italian cuisine fan.”

A Jewish proverb that is very fitting reads, “The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten.” The war dead and those who lost their lives after returning home maybe won’t be forgotten in the traditional sense as long as wars are documented, but we can lose sight of WHO these brave souls were.

Whether we remember them each Memorial Day or at Veteran’s Day, let’s truly remember THEM, as family members, friends, people with interests that often mirror our own. Each of them matters in the ongoing story of shaping our country’s and world’s history.

 

A Letter to a Wall (Inspired by a Peace Group’s Writing Prompt)

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Dear Vietnam Veterans Memorial,

This feels odd to be addressing a wall, but talking to a wall is exactly what many adult children of Vietnam vets feel as though they are coping with with a public that still largely misunderstands the impact that this war has even today. All of the broken relationships, the heartache of those losing their loved ones to the effects of addictions, the human aspects are things you can’t get. As a silent witness, though, I know you can see that the impact on families is very real.

If you were a human, what would you feel, having witnessed so many people visiting you? Would you feel heartache for all those who lost loved ones? Share the anguish of those whose loved ones never came back and whose fate is unknown? Possibly some anger that the human race hasn’t improved much in its thirst for conflict? My guess would be you’d feel all three, and then some.

Memorials and monuments have been a part of the human experience for millenia. When we see memorials with names, we’re reminded of those lost. We shouldn’t forget, though, that behind each of those names is a person who lived, who loved, whose future accomplishments are and will remain unknown because their lives were cut short. Much of American culture glorifies the service member without considering what was important in their civilian lives, who loved them and who they loved, what they could have achieved had they lived.

Even for those who returned home, the things that made them who they are and who they were often get eclipsed in the light of honoring their service. There is more than meets the eye to what goes on with society’s designated “war heroes”. As a silent witness, you testify to the lives of those who were lost. However, it’s too easy to forget those who still live, and those whose lives ended long after their service. Many of the living still bear emotional scars, and many took their emotional turmoil to the grave.

Lastly, let’s not forget those who have indirectly become “casualties” in their own way:

  • The adult children who had their parent there for them only part-time, if at all, and have missed out on important bonding
  • The spouses who must often endure abuse that they’re expected to accept as okay because their partner is seen as a hero
  • The ex-spouses who get villified when their ex-partner wouldn’t get help and they had to leave for their own sanity and/or safety
  • The friends who don’t understand all the dynamics and think that their friend is antisocial
  • Family members who don’t know the full extent of what goes on when they’re not there and are inclined to blame everyone else.

As we remember the fallen, let’s hope that your witness to this war remains a testament to what we lost and are still losing. May you continue to stand as a stark reminder of war and its many costs. Maybe one day, our society will learn something.