Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Veterns' Day: A lesson from my father
I support our troops, but not the War in Iraq or the War in Afghanistan.
That's not an oxymoron. Neither is it unpatriotic.
I love this country. I am as patriotic as the most patriotic person, but I love this country enough that I am against war - especially these two.
I love this county, I support our troops and I do not support the War, but I am not a pacifist. That takes real courage - courage I confess I have searched for but have not yet found.
I fear I am too much of a coward to be a true pacifist.
So, I have settled for this peace: I think the most patriotic thing we can do is to do everything we can to end these wars that are not ours and bring our young men and women home.
In many ways, these two wars feel like Viet Nam all over again. Even my father - who fought on the Pacific Front in WWII, and was very proud to have been decorated with the Purple Heart - was very much against the Viet Nam War.
One year, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, Veteran's Day fell on a week end. We left shortly after he had marched in the local Annual Veteran's Day Parade and traveled to a Military Cemetery outside of Boston to visit the grave of one of his buddies who had died.
After we had laid a small bouquet of poppies near the headstone, my father said to me, "Look around. Look at the gravestones. What do you see that's the same?"
I dutifully did as my father said, walking slowly among the markers on the graves, fingering the cool marble stone and listening to the dry leaves crackle as they were blown across barren field by the brisk November wind.
"Dad," I said, finally, "Everyone of these stones has PFC before the name. What does PFC stand for?"
My father smiled briefly, proud of his daughter's correct observation. His smile was suddenly clouded - the way the sun goes in and out in the November sky.
"Private first class," he said sadly.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"They are the youngest soldiers - the newest soldiers - the ones with the least experience in war."
"Look around," my father continued after I considered his words. "You won't see too many graves marked 'Captain' or 'Lieutenant' or 'Colonel'. Oh, there are some, but most of the graves here are the PFC's."
"Like your friend?" I asked.
"Like me, too," he said.
He grew very quiet and said, "We were very young. Too young. We were young warriors, fearless young turks, ready, we thought, to die for our country. But, when death came to our friends, we were never ready. But, we had to keep going. We had to keep going . . ."
He took a few drags from his Lucky Strike and his eyes trailed off over the tops of the gravestones to a long ago battle in a country far, far away.
"War is a terrible thing," he said almost whispering his words over the rows of graves that held the bodies of young PFCs.
I looked at my father's face, lined with sorrow and pain and suddenly, it all came clear. In that moment, I understood the terrible nightmares that woke us up in the middle of the night - a sound so horrible and so loud as to wake the dead.
I realized, then, that it must have been the dead that had awakened him.
Suddenly, I understood his frustration and anger when he would 'get an attack of The Malaria', as he called it - which brought him right back to a place and time he'd much sooner forget and never have to relive ever again.
I couldn't possibly have understood - still can't possibly understand - the full cost of war, but I knew he had paid - and was continuing to pay - a heavy price for playing his part in The War that was supposed to have ended all wars. But didn't.
"War," he said again, "is a terrible thing."
He said it as fact and he said it as prayer.
I understood then, that some may have fought for freedom for all, but all may not ever again be fully free.
Pray for our Veterans on their Day.
Pray for peace in our time - and their's.