This year I had the experience of my Grandfather passing away. He served in the US Navy in the Korean War era. Grandpa was laid to rest in a national cemetery a few rows down from a friend of mine who lost his life in Zabul province due to a command wire improvised explosive device. Memorial day is specifically set aside to remember those who fell in service, but they are buried alongside the veterans who pass one later in life. So screw whatever the official purpose, I’m going to write about what I want to write about.
There were literally millions of service members who have passed on in the last few decades, the WWII generation having been such a huge part of population that everyone seemed to be connected somehow. Remembering them, and the generations before them who fought for their nation, should be both a somber reminder of the cost of freedom and the celebration of their success. One of the most gentle men I ever knew didn’t talk much about his service, but when he passed his marker included the abbreviation for Corporal and included the dates of his service in WWII, and he is buried a bit down from my grandfather, and also a little bit from from my friend.
And that is kind of fitting, that even those who make it out of service and back into civilian life can re-unite with those they served with when it comes time to shed the mortal coil and transition into eternity. Those who were drafted, those who volunteered, those who did one tour and those who made it a career all together in the end. Small cogs in the big machine, but vital to keeping things going.
The Korean era generation is well into retirement. The Vietnam generation is getting up there in years, and we are losing them too, the youngest now in their sixties, with the actuarial tables a grim reminder that time marches on. The Desert Storm veterans are getting up there too, and even now in the Army there is a new generation of junior leaders without a combat patch on their right sleeve, as the natural attrition of people leaving the service brings in new volunteers to take their place.
The United States has cemeteries all across the globe. From France, Holland, and Belgium to the Philippines, Okinawa, and Guam. The national cemeteries are open to receiving the newly fallen, and the veterans of wartime service who pass on, and while each death is a tragedy in itself the care that they give in receiving home their family in arms is something unique to those who have passed through the experience of military service. If you have the chance to visit the grave of a friend or loved one who took their turn carrying the torch of freedom I recommend it.
And if you are remembering someone who served and then lived a good long life after service, I’m glad. Sometimes living or dying in a combat zone is just a matter of dumb luck, with no rhyme or reason about how things turn out. But that’s life in general, and this weekend is a good time to be thankful for good people and the quirks of fate that keep life interesting.
I hope that this weekend is good for everyone, although we still have boots on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and countless other nations across the globe doing the daily work of advancing US foreign policy. The war on terror is now on its third president, and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.