Some people say the loved ones at home suffer more than their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents, and other family members who die in a war. Who suffers the most after a death is not a contest; no bragging rights here. The dead are gone: what they feel, or if they feel, is unknown to us. The soldiers who return with their memories of the horrors they saw and the family and friends of those who died will mourn the dead for years–perhaps a lifetime.
To my knowledge, I knew one person (Mike) who died in Vietnam. Others who served on the USS Ranger (CVA61) with me were also casualties of war. I think of them on Memorial Day. As I’ve written on this blog before (with nasty sarcasm) remembering the dead seems more important to me than making the rounds of bricks-and-mortar and online Memorial Day sales. (“Dad died, so now’s a good time to get 25% off a new riding mower.)
I found Mike’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial. I hadn’t expected the power and sadness of seeing his name there or, in fact, seeing the 58,318 names on the wall at that time. I visited the Tomb of the Unknowns when I was a child and as an adult, I’ve been to battlefields and cemeteries where the dead rest (presumably) in peace. Visiting these sites strengthened my respect for Memorial Day.
The intent of Memorial Day, which began as Declaration Day in 1869 to honor the dead from the Civil War, doesn’t officially extend to the widows, widowers, and other family left at home. Perhaps it should. Dying in war is often called “the ultimate sacrifice.” I’m not so sure. I think those who come home with mental and physical wounds, memories they cannot undo, PTSD, and a future that includes living as one invisible in a cardboard home under a bridge might be making the ultimate sacrifice by surviving. So, too, the family left at home.
We can think of them on this day for the losses they suffered but are seldom acknowledged for suffering.