Monday, May 27, 2013


Today is Memorial Day.  A day set aside to honor those who fought for our country and perished. As a high school classmate wrote yesterday, veterans have their day, this is not it.  This is the day to honor those who lost their lives to protect our country.

It is a day that has lost its meaning in many quarters.  To many, today is a day off and that is all. Occasionally one will remember why we have the day off.  Sometimes that occurs when we are trying to get somewhere and find our route obstructed because of a parade.  Memorial Day, in New England at least, is when families gather for barbecues. Very big barbecue day around here.  When I was a kid, Memorial Day, meant double headers--a day when my dad, a veteran, would often buy us tickets to see the Giants, and later the Mets, play in the Polo Grounds.   For years my buddies Kenny and Fran would rendezvous somewhere on the holiday weekend and cavort using the extra day for ease with travelling.  Now I typically use Memorial Day to unwind, and "cavort" by doing next to nothing.  I recall the former football coach, Bum Phillips's quip when he was asked what he was going to do with his days during retirement. "Not a damn thing" he said "and I won't get started until noon."

 I can remember a very hot Memorial Day weekend, 1979.  Kenny and Fran had been up.  I was living by Lake Erie at the time.  After they left I met a fellow in town who had a flag, but seemed sour.  We got to talking and he said that there was supposed to be a gathering but few showed up and he said he was thinking about fellow soldiers he had lost in Vietnam.

I blogged here a few years ago about a book I read called, A Bright Shining Lie.  It was about the war and traced the military life of a John Paul Vann, a soldier who went to Vietnam committed to fighting for our country and determined to help us win the war.  The more time he spent there, the more he realized that the purported reason for the war was an illusion.  There is so much that has been written about the war and its origins.  One of the more startling events to the naive, and at the time I could count myself in that category, was the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.  A careful reading of what took place during the alleged "Tonkin Gulf Incident" makes it clear that President Johnson embellished if not fabricated the "event" to justify gaining support for the war.  Vann was not referring to the incident specifically when he commented:  

"We had also, to all the visitors who came over there, been one of the bright shining lies."

One of the more disturbing references in the book was a discussion of what was called "The Kill Ratio."  This referred to the number of "their guys" killed to the number of "our guys."  Holding aside a discussion of whether in our world there is really such a thing as "their guys" as opposed to "our guys" the idea that the "Kill ratio" was used as a meter for success is disturbing. If there is a kill "ratio" that means that one of the numbers refers to our soldiers that will die.  We are putting our soldiers out there to die in the hope that more of their soldiers will die.  In Vietnam the soldiers who died, died for no reason. The Civil War and World War II and other military conflicts were necessary, but my contemporaries who were killed in Vietnam were sent to the slaughter.  And today is a day to remember them and, at the same time, commit to a vigilance that will reduce the chances that we will ever be concerned with such a horrific concept as the kill ratio for a dubious cause.

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