Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

by Ben Small

Yes, I know Mark beat me to it, and I tried hard not to fall back on Memorial Day as a topic today, but this is Memorial Day, and that fact has been in my thoughts all day.

I've never been in the service. You might say I flunked out. Oh yes, I was called for duty in Vietnam, but when it came time for fitness for service pronouncements, I was deemed unfit. Believe it or not, my feet were too large and I was too tall. And the allergies. Evidently somebody thought I'd be too good a target even in my bare feet, and that my sneezing would give our location away.

I wasn't unhappy about it, needless to say, because I was one who thought we shouldn't be in Vietnam anyway. And not having to go left me free to attend law school.

So my war record can be described in two letters: 4F.

And believe it or not, I don't know anybody who was killed or badly injured in war. So, after watching the Indy 500 yesterday -- my usual way of celebrating Memorial Day -- I felt a bit guilty. I saw that Washington was celebrating Memorial Day with a concert, so I tuned in.

Wow! What an impact. When Katie Holmes and another actress talked about Jose's ordeal, and I saw him, I cried. And then I thought about my nephew serving in Afghanistan. He volunteered. And he's on his third tour of duty. He doesn't whine, doesn't criticize, he trains and then goes. And he's proud of his service. And I'm proud of him.

I can't imagine the terror that must strike these soldiers the first time they see an insurgent, or the first time they hear an IED going off. And the post traumatic stress so many of them suffer for a long time after their service. The Agent Orange hangover from Vietnam. The poison gas from the first World War, the hordes of Chinese invading Korea, the beachhead at Normandy. So much terror...

But our soldiers were called and they served. And no matter what is said about why or how we got into and are fighting any particular war, we need to remember that this is all rhetoric to those who are actually doing the fighting. For them, it's a matter of life and death.

God bless these brave men and women.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes, Ben. I'm fortunate not to have lost family (four brothers who served in in the military and four daughters who didn't), but I have friends who have suffered losses, their lives changed dramatically by war.

Anonymous said...

I am reading all the Memorial Day posts. I lived through World War II so it's "my war."

My own remembrance is up on my personal blog.

There's a link to a gut-wrenching (You Tube)1945Paramount Newsreel about Iwo Jima. The newsreel was shot under fire and is in good shape to this day.

I marvel at the guts of those war correspondents and cameramen, and of the good, everlasting quality of that old black and white film.

There's also a reprint of my 1991 newspaper column about a friend who died on Iwo Jima.

Check it out at

Pat Browning

Mark W. Danielson said...

Great post, Ben. There is no such thing as overspeaking Memorial Day.

My wife Lyne, her mother, and I visited Lyne's father's memorial at Fort Logan today. Heavy rains flooded the streets, and it was nearly impossible to get inside because there were so many wanting to pay their respects. By the time we had lunch, the weather had moved on and we were able to pay our own respects. It was a beautiful sight.

Lyne's father was a World War II veteran, as was my father, my best friend's father, and one of my most cherished friends. All served in different capacities, and all survived the war, but hundreds of thousands did not.

World War II was perhaps our last "well defined" war. Korea was painted red and Vietnam shades of gray. Our current war is unlike anything we've ever faced, for it is an invisible enemy without clearly defined goals. No question, today's soldiers have a most difficult task. I'm thankful for all of our soldiers who continue to serve our country, and mourn those who have given their lives.

Like you, Ben, we watched the Memorial Day concert and were deeply moved by the stories. We can only hope that our country will continue to stand behind our veterans who have given so much, and ensure continued benefits for all who have served.

Chester Campbell said...

You did a good job, Ben. I'm reminded of the old saying, "they also serve who only stand and wait." That pretty well nails my WWII Army career. When I finished basic training at Miami Beach (tough duty, really), I took the psychomotor tests and qualified for pilot, navigator, or bombardier. I was eager to jump in the cockpit and start firing guns. But they didn't have any openings anywhere, so they sent a bunch of us to Moody Field, GA, as "on-the-line" traineees. We trained to do such things as rake gravel beside the headquarters buildings.

They finally sent us to Winthrop College, a girls' school at Rock Hill, SC, where we studied things that might be helpful as aviators, like meteorology. Then it was back "on-the-line" at Shaw Field, SC. I trained at washing pots and pans and filing regulations in the Air Inspector's office. Finally I made it to pre-flight school in San Antonio. That was fun. But then it was back to the old grind, this time at Randolph Field. There I served as a guinea pig in the School of Aviation Medicine, where doctors practiced giving physicals. They also pulled tricks like giving us pills and putting us in a swinging gondola to see how long before we'd get (air)sick. Then I was sent across the field to the Transient Officers Quarters as a clerk. I was there when a B-29 leveled Hiroshima, and a few months later I headed home.

You can't get many war stories out of that.