“Dr. Joe, I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day,” remarked my buddy Jack.
“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to enjoy Memorial Day when considering its significance,” I said.
“Are you writing about Memorial Day,” he asked? I hate being so darn predictable, but I said, “Why yes I am.”
He pulled up a chair and explained, “Healing is forgetting and moving on. In order to progress veterans must find some resolve with the past. Why do so many veterans cling to pain?” he asked? “There’s nothing you can do about the past.” His analysis was prophetic but all I could lend to the conversation was a simple smile.
Jack is a writer, a professor, and a laurite in the field of psychology; his opinions are consummate. His argument was inclusive of intellectual jargon found in the subjectivity of psychology. Jack had found the path toward emotional peace and the veteran need only follow it.
After Jack left I shot him an e-mail and cited an excerpt from Eugene Sledge’s book, “With the Old Corp.”
“Every time I looked over the edge of the foxhole, that half-gone face leered up to me with a sardonic grin. It was as though he was mocking our pitiful efforts to hang on to life in the face of constant violent death. Maybe he was mocking the folly of war itself: I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life.”
“So Jack! You wonder why you can’t forget,” I wrote.
On Memorial Day, my thoughts end with mothers who have lost a child in war. How do you console a grieving mother? There is a hole in the heart of a beleaguered nation because this scene is much too prevalent.
A mother’s being is intertwined with the children she gave birth to and subsequently raised and nurtured. I can’t image the pain felt by a soldier’s mother when learning of the demise of her child. It must be a dagger through the heart. I understand T.S. Eliot when we says, “We die with the dying; they depart and we go with them.”
I’m haunted by the bond between a mother and a soldier. As a Marine in Vietnam I often thought, “If our mothers could only see us now.” I was glad they could not. I was distressed to learn from a combat medic that often the last word of a dying soldier was, “Mother.” And please…tell me… how does a nation send mothers of toddlers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan?
When I think of the sea of crosses in gardens of stone, I realize for every soldier lost there is a mother, a wife, or a sister whose life will never be the same. The lament of mothers over the loss of their children tears at my soul and there is no cure. I’m sorry. Those of us who made it back…we did the best we could. To all the mothers, wives, and sisters of lost and forgotten soldiers, I am so sorry…we could do no more.