Memorial Day 2021

Today is May 31, 2021.

Today the people of the US celebrate Memorial Day.

A good blogging friend from another country, asked me about today and I started a simple answer to his question, but as sometimes happens, the writer’s muse takes over and my simple answer turned into a personal reflection on how Memorial Day became important to me.

When I finally hit send, I found myself disappointed that so few people might see my answer so I went back, copied it and prettied it up for sharing as a post.

The essay below is where my mind goes on Memorial Day. I find myself hopeful that maybe this will reach the eyes and ears of someone who was not as fortunate as I was and thus has a very different take on the year 1973.

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Today is our Memorial Day which is when we try to recall our service men and women, especially those who gave it all for us. It’s a strange holiday for me in a way I’m not proud of because my take is so self-centered. But let me explain.

In late 1972, I was in my final year of high school at Petaluma High. I was nearly clueless about the world and politics but aware enough that the US was wrapped up in an ugly war in Vietnam. Our draft was the real thing, compulsory, and normal guys like me were being forced into military service, short training and being sent over where they didn’t want to be, fight and many — way too many, died in a war that the soldiers were not even allowed to fight to win. When they came back, our news media had stirred up the masses who took out their anger on the returning soldiers. It was very bad and the men who were just doing what they were told by politicians either died not knowing much about the reason why, or were hated when they returned home.

In early 1973, the annual draft lottery was done one night on TV, and those of us who were the right age (as I was) got our draft numbers (the order in which we would be called to serve) by our birth dates.

Mine came out – 43. This meant I was almost certain to be called and I could not imagine holding up a gun to take someones life in a war I knew only through our news media who mostly reported the number of US deaths on the battlefield, or on a good day, the details of some atrocity our servicemen were accused of. Most of our sense of patriotism had been scrubbed away by the media. The real thug in the war was China, who was not so quietly backing our enemy. So our politicians refused to fight to win – but only to push back. Even today, I’m not sure what would have been the right thing to do, but as US citizens, we’d had enough of this nonsense and just wanted out.

I learned years later that my parents, on the quiet, were working some deal with someone I never knew to send me to Canada to hide from being drafted. I never heard the details of how far this idea got but took it as a huge act of love by my parents who were trying to save my life from a government who was willing to waste it.

Instead, public pressure finally reached a point that violence was breaking out domestically and our leaders finally folded and began searching for a way to pull out without too losing too many more lives. Even at this – they failed. Our pull out was itself a disaster.

But for me, at what felt like the last minute, the draft was cancelled and my low draft number 43 suddenly meant nothing — well nothing but relief for me as I no longer had to worry if I could be trained into raising a weapon against someone I had no reason to kill, but the awkward and ill planned pull-out from Vietnam meant more death and misery to all who were part of our withdrawal from Vietnam.

On Memorial day, I stand to recall and thank those who did not have the good fortune I had to simply miss being called by the arbitrary fall of a lottery ball. I count Memorial Day as a blessing for me but for so many whose birthday was just a tad earlier than mine, the story is nothing like a blessing.

For us on both sides of that pull out decision, before or shortly after, Vietnam changed almost everything.

Arguably the political leaders of the US lost our confidence and became an internal enemy we sometimes have to defend ourselves from. Our news media was exposed as willing to use their power to persuade us of their opinions rather than report the news. Our young leaders, finishing their college careers  were exposed often as useful idiots ignorant of the realities of history, politics and even economics and so many of us were pressed into arguments between friends and family.

But, we were making our most embarrassing history when we failed to respect the soldiers who had no voice in how Vietnam unfolded, but simply went and served, and died or came back to our public scorn.


So, on Memorial Day, I always want to find and thank a surviving Vietnam veteran.

If you are one, I want to thank you, but these words are too cheap, too easy. They cost me nothing compared to the price you paid to secure my ability to say them.

Memorial n Veterans-Day

GW bio card 4

8 thoughts on “Memorial Day 2021

  1. My first “real” memory was of Memorial Day 1974… the day my Big Bro came home from ‘Nam. I remember waiting for him on the tarmac near a fence. people threw eggs, glass bottles, and rocks at us and called out words my parent’s wouldn’t explain to me. Then, my bubby came off the plane. He was crying and hugged me so tight. It hurt, but not as much as the rocks and bottles. I guess that’s maybe why I don’t like crowds of people, even today.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Bear, when you can please thank him for ne and tell him how bad I feel for how he was treated. But I was that guy on the sidelines not sure what was happening but treating these men this way was just plain wrong.
      Even then I knew it was wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. He died a few years ago.I rarely if ever saw him growing up, and he never really accepted me as part of the family. Still, the way he was treated was horrid.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Gary, Thank you for your thoughts. Your reflections are spot on. For me, I enlisted in the Navy in 1965, hoping that I would not be sent to Vietnam, or the closest I would get would be off the coast. I was in between attending Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, Cal. and transferring to the Men’s Menlo College in Menlo Park. It was the result of a discussion I had with the Menlo College counselor that convinced me to enlist, pronto. Well, the Navy made me into a Radioman and after tech school, I served a year on Midway Island, getting to know the Gooney Birds. After a year there, I got orders for a billet at the US Navy PCF base in Qui Nhon, Vietnam. So much for my plans to try to avoid going to war. What kind of patriot was I…. just one who did not understand why our country was over there in the first place and bitter that I couldn’t continue my college education. So, I went down to Coronado to learn how to kill people and survive if captured, etc. Next thing I knew, I was on a jet plane to Saigon, Vietnam. After 15 hrs or so, we landed at Midnight in Saigon, right in the middle of the major Tet Offensive. The city was exploding with cannon and gun fire. We were wisked away to an old French built hotel down town and hunkered down while snipers fired bullets into our windows (one zinged right past my head and into the wall my first night there). They had me man a radio to link communications to command from gun jeeps firing on the enemy. It was during one of those fire fights that I realized our own men were firing on each other (its called “friendly fire)….it was a real awakening for me that first night and was the beginning of experiences that keep coming to my mind from time to time and probably will never go away. Horror stories, one after another and I was never to fight in the jungle.. I never saw what real horrror was like. Instead, I made my way up the coast in the northern section not so very far from Da Nang at the border of the DMZ. The city is called Qui Nhon. A small city on the edge of a lovely bay, kinda like Monterey Bay in Cal. I was assigned communications for the US Navy PCF floatilla. These were 40ft Swift boats made on the East Coast. Designed to patrol close coastal and up river on occasion.. very fast and heavily armed. Are base commander required us Radiomen to rotate off and on the PCF’s to increase our skills for crew backup if needed. I heard things and saw things while out on patrol that I’d like to forget. After some months, you become hardened about being there and just put in your time and do your duty and follow orders and try to stay out of trouble.. Trouble was always there. I really wasn’t close to the Lord during those times, but, doing the look back.. I can see where God saved me, numerous times. We all dreamed and talked about going back home, “back to the World” as we called it. And when that day came, after a year, I was never so excited to be leaving a nightmare. Only to find myself hated when I returned… made me sick and made me mad as hell. I watched the protestors and listened to all the liberal crap and thought about my friends who didn’t make it back and what we all went through, no matter where you were over there. And so, for me to survive the “world”, I had to suppress my military experience. I threw away all my things I had collected from the war and military. I didn’t talk about it, but rarily. And now as the many years have passed by, I can be proud of my service and on Memorial day, wear my Vet cap and actually hear people say to me…”thankyou for your service” and actually feel “proud”…. what a change. The nightmares and dark thoughts no longer find a place in me. When I got save in 1979, God cleansed my spirit and made me whole in him. He forgave my sins, even the sins that I committed over in Vietnam. God made me free. Free to give something good back. And when I see a military vet. who has lost a limb or is mentally messed up, my heart breaks and all I want to do is to give something back. And I have, over the years, as God has saved me from terminal cancer, in a most wonderful way, just so that I can give God’s love back to someone in need who God places in my path. Oh, I could go on and on. And I want to thankyou Gary, for your service and your heart and want nothing more but Gods Peace and Blessings to be upon you and your dear family. I have never forgotten the rich times and good times we spent together in Los Gatos. We are all scattered now, but one day, we will be together again and what a wonderful day that will be. Not sure if you know that the Witts have moved up to Whidbey Island. We have stayed in touch and look forward to visitng again with that dear couple. Oh the memories. We will stay in touch with you Gary. With love in Christ, Dennis

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Denis. Wow. You captured a lot here and I hope many more see your words than they do mine. It’s great to know that “Thank you for your service” has begun to mean something again even if it was so late in being said. You did the job I was so afraid of being drafted into and I’m still so proud to call you a friend.
      May God send you even more of the peace that passes all understanding.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This post also shows something about how there’s no appeal from a court of public opinion, it’s both a good thing and a terrible thing And the media… forments it.

    Thank you for sharing, this insightful, and it sounds like this memorial will never not be a complicated one of mixed emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My mom’s birthday was on May 31 so every Memorial Day was extra special to us. She taught us to respect every serviceman from the time we were little. She told us stories of how her mom would walk home from work in San Francisco during WWII and invite sailors to have dinner with them or spend their leave time in their home, especially during the holidays. As kids during the Vietnam War, we wrote letters to soldiers, sent care packages, and had sailors and soldiers for meals who were visiting our church. When we picked my dad up at the airport in SF we always walked up to military people to thank them for their service, something I do to this day. I appreciate the fact that my mom taught us to honor and respect those who serve in the military and the reasons we should. Every Memorial Day is special because I remember the sacrifices made by people who allowed us to have freedom, and I remember my mom who taught me to value this unique country we live in.


    1. Bravo for you and your mom. I had not heard of this until (many years ago) I was traveling by air and saw someone (you perhaps?) do this for a pair of service men waiting for their flight. It resonated with me and so I’ve done it myself. Often the person(s) are humble and mildly embarrassed, but are always polite and seem to appreciate being appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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