Oh Yeah … Celebrate?

It occurs to me that using the word celebrate to describe my Veteran’s Day activities and thoughts (see last post) could be taken to mean a picnic, a party, balloons and tickertape and champagne.

Here’s how I celebrated last year: I took the Metro alone to Arlington Cemetery, where I wandered aimlessly for an hour thinking of my friends still in Iraq and Afghanistan. I watched the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, trying to reconcile the stark and bizarre difference between these strak soldiers polished to perfection and the dusty, sweat-stained, rumpled exhaustion of the troopies in the war zones. Then I walked to the area of Arlington where the men and women who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried. There I walked through every row, scanning every name, thanking them silently. I nodded to the families gathered for picnics on the graves of their sons and daughters, and I stood off at a distance and cried for the woman who sat sobbing at her son’s grave.

This year I stayed home and wrote a list of all the people that I know who have served in the military or worked in Iraq or Afghanistan. I included names that I remembered from uniforms on strangers that I passed at Camp Bucca, Basrah, and Tallil. When I couldn’t think of a person’s name I wrote one word that described something memorable about them. When I was finished, I said a silent thank you to all those people and tucked the pages in the back of my journal.

When I received the Defense of Freedom Medal, I said to the General, “It seems a little weird to me, like receiving a medal for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” What I meant but couldn’t articulate at the time is that many people that I worked with in Iraq were more deserving of the medal than I felt I was, whether they got blown up or not. They’d served longer, were more effective, and were under-appreciated. I have this medal in my drawer, but it isn’t mine. I feel as if I’m just a caretaker of the medal, holding it on behalf of all the civilians who volunteer in war zones.

I’ve said it on another page, but it bears repeating: if the only people who went to Iraq were the worst sort of people I met while I was there – the officers chasing Combat Action Badges, the yahoos chasing big paychecks, the arrogant Americans talking to Iraqi engineers as if they were three-year old children, the journalists who only reported the bang-bang, the ideologues in Baghdad who cared more about sound bites than they did about truth or reality, the State Department appointees bartering long-term gains in business, education and health care for international oil contract agreements … If the only people who go to Iraq are the worst sort of people that I met while I was there, I believe that we as Americans – and I personally as a human being – will have to accept some responsibility for compounding the general incivilities and horrors of war.

Thanks to all who serve and have served, military and civilian.

Now pass the champagne …

***

All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.

~François Fénelon

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One Response to “Oh Yeah … Celebrate?”

  1. Neatavatwhend Says:

    Unadulterated words, some truthful words man. Totally made my day!!

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