Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those Americans who have given their lives in war. You might not know this from the newspaper or TV, though. The holiday seems to have become another excuse to sleep in and for retailers to sell everything from dryers to bed sheets. In fact, Memorial Day should be May 31, but since that’s a Thursday this year, the government moved it up so we could all enjoy a long weekend.
If you’re ever near Washington, D.C., be sure to stop by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Maya Lin’s elegiac wall is perfect, despite the controversy that erupted when her design was announced in the early 1980s. In fact, the two sculptures added to it to “balance” it out—overly literal figures of male and female soldiers — actually detract from the deep symbolism of Lin’s elegant design. Visitors leave mementos at the base of the wall that are deeply meaningful only to the person whose name is on the wall and the person who left it. In addition to the usual flowers, teddy bears, and uniform items, one time I saw a 45-rpm record of “Devil in a Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. What did that song mean to whomever left it? Which name on the wall was it intended for? It was a haunting sight, that simple black disc propped forlornly against the base of the wall.
The Korean War Memorial suffers in comparison, a hodgepodge of quasi-impressionistic sculptures and a polished granite wall containing images instead of names. It’s as if the design committee couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, symbolic or literal. It settled for both. Personally, I think the Korean veterans deserve better.
The World War II Memorial, nearby on the Washington Mall, is huge and sprawling, as was the conflict it memorializes. Its classical design splits into two halves, one for the Atlantic Theater and one for the Pacific. For a while after it opened, people would leave mementos around the memorial as they do at the Vietnam Wall. Faded photos of young men in uniform, their hats tipped at a jaunty angle, provoked deep melancholy. Even if those brave young men are still alive, most would be in their 80s and 90s. Thousands of their generation die every day.
That memorial means a lot to me, even though Vietnam was my generation’s war. You see, I have two dads memorialized in the World War II plaza, one for each theater of war. My biological father, Eugene, died six weeks before I was born. He served in an Army Air Corps unit that flew The Hump, supplying British, Australian, and American units in China and Burma. I have a few old photos of him with his brother Paul, in uniform on leave in Tehran, Iran. Their broad smiles bely the world-changing conflagration they were part of. I know my father only from these photos and the stories told me by my Uncle Paul, Aunt Mary, and my mom.
My other dad, Francis — it feels strange to call him my step-dad, since he’s the father who raised me — fought in Europe. I don’t know much about what he did, because he never talked about it, even when questioned. I do know he refused to see Saving Private Ryan. He died two years ago in a veterans’ home in Iowa after suffering for many years from Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. It was based on the heroism of both my dad’s generation that I joined the Marines after graduating from high school many many years ago.
Still, while today’s heroes are honored everywhere from the White House to small airport welcome-home ceremonies by complete strangers, some today still don’t understand. Just this weekend our reliably loony MSNBC served up Chris Hayes saying he’s reluctant to use the word hero with today’s fighting men and women: “I feel … uncomfortable about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war.” Yeah, you gotta watch out for that rhetorical proximity. Unfortunately, he was echoed by someone I generally respect, John McWhorter, who added that the word lends itself to “argumentative strategies.”
No, it simply lends itself to honoring those who have chosen to serve our nation in uniform, to put their life on the line so that a moonbat like Hayes can sit in his cloistered liberal bubble and garner the benefits of a free society for which he has not put anything serious on the line. Today, especially, the word heroes honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Contemplate that for a few moments, Mr. Hayes, before you open your piehole to spout more nonsense. Compared to the lowest private who has ever served in uniform, you come across as a selfish worm.
I will mark Memorial Day in remembrance of both my dads and their generation, especially, but I will also remember all the young men and women who have died in all of America’s wars for the past 237 years. Yes, I plan to barbecue some burgers and brats, too; there’s nothing wrong with celebrating. But please, as you celebrate, remember the true meaning of the day and thank a veteran.
Thanks, Dad. Both of you.