By Leo Coughlin
We celebrate holidays now that are dated for the convenience of making a long weekend.
For me, Memorial Day is always the 30th day of May. I will accept none other. Though the official holiday was on Monday, I will memorialize on Saturday – the real day.
Very often, it seems, Memorial Day gets confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is the day we remember the dead, not all those who served. Sometimes, in connection with Memorial Day you hear references to “poppies” and “Flanders Field.”
Those are both Armistice Day (November 11, which became Veterans Day) references. But inaccuracy and sloppiness, both in language and facts, is the hallmark of our times. No one really cares, just as long as the ice cream is cold and there is enough titillation on the TV.
After the Civil War people went to graves of soldiers and decorated them. When I was a little boy -- a million years ago in terms of what life was like then as opposed to now -- it was often called “Decoration Day.” In the South, the remembrance was often celebrated on April 26, but May 30 now seems to have overridden all that.
You might be interested to know that war is not a clean shoot ‘em up bang-bang fall dead exercise. It has not the sharp vividness of the movies. The “Private Ryan” movie of a few years ago had a terrible reality. I couldn’t watch it.
Combat tears men to pieces. It literally drives men to the brink of insanity. To go through an artillery or mortar barrage is to bring anxiety to the highest level possible. Combat, for the most part, is mass confusion and that, in and of itself, is terrifying.
Most guys -- and I say guys because that is who chiefly was involved until recently -- who have seen the worst of it seldom talk about it. It is something that can never be shut out of their minds, but talking about it brings lots of the horror to life.
These soldiers, sailors and airmen of combat often come back bewildered, wondering, “why am I alive and others dead?” It is a haunting thought.
Think of those who died in these terrible ways in terms of your own life. Would you like to have been living in the open, not bathing, not shaving, not eating right, deprived of all privacy and subject at any moment to a horrifying wound? Death, in many cases, is better.
Think of yourself as a youngster with everything ahead, and then substitute the abyss of nothingness (in terms of this world) in place of those dreams.
It is always interesting to reflect on what it is that gives a person courage to do the things that we automatically shrink from when we contemplate it. “Oh, Lord, I could not do that,” is what many think; but then, many did what seems impossible and lived through it.
But this is about the dead and their deaths, their sacrifice paid in the greatest measure for what we have in our country.
For Paul Young who fell in the Philippines, for George Hall, who cut off his own shattered leg, got the Medal of Honor and died later of his wounds, for Harold Black who was destroyed by shellfire in a bitterly cold day in Korea on December 28, 1950 – for all of them.
For those who died it is never about flag and country. It is about comrades and love. Those in combat put themselves at risk and often to death for those in the unit. It is not about politics, so when a government, rightly or wrongly, orders in effect the deaths of youths, those who make the sacrifice must never be held responsible.
They obeyed and in their obedience died for all of us.
The best we can do is to remember them, again, this Memorial Day.
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