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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 5/22/09

As of the deadline, the contestants vying for the 5/15/09 Friday Challenge are:


And Al didn't submit an entry, but instead posted a link to this article, which you might find amusing.

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite, with the winner to be announced on Sunday. And now, moving right along...

Memorial Day. When I was a kid, it was still observed—not celebrated, observed—on May 30, and it was a solemn day. Then in 1968 Congress passed a law changing it to be the last Monday in May, so that government employees could get a consistent three-day weekend, and the meaning began to drift. Instead of being a day set aside to remember those who had fallen in military service, it became the start of summer vacation season: the weekend to open up the cabin and put in the dock: or as JC Penney reminds me this morning, the kickoff for the traditional annual 4-DAY FURNITURE MEGA DEALS!

Oddly, while the meaning has drifted for the rest of the world, as I age, this weekend has become steadily more melancholy for me. World War II was my parent's war; Vietnam was my generation's war, although thanks to the grace of God and a high draft lottery number I did not serve. But this is the context I grew up in, and what I think about now, and perhaps why I read so much military history: because I'm still struggling to find meaning in their sacrifice.

Vietnam was strange. No mustering; no parades; no politicians emitting fatuous gas about glory; no brass bands playing as the soldiers marched down in company to ship out. Friends disappeared in ones and twos, as the letters came in ordering them to report for their induction physicals, and two years or so later some of them came back—quietly, furtively, as if they'd just been released from prison.

Some came back okay. Some came back damaged, either in body or mind. Some came back in bags and boxes. And some simply vanished, and are still MIA today.

My best friend when I was a teenager; his dad was a WWII veteran. Navy, machinist's mate: only years after he committed suicide by whiskey and unfiltered Camels did his widow get a copy of his service record, and a list of all the medals he was supposed to be proud to display. Turns out he'd been a landing craft crewman, attached to a Marine division, and his service record was a tour guide of the hellholes of the Pacific. He'd been in on all the big ones, and was temporarily a Marine rifleman for a few days when his landing craft was sunk and he and the Marines he'd just landed were pinned down on the beach, under murderous fire, while the bodies of his friends bloated up in the tropical sun and drifted in and out on the tide.

No wonder he never wanted to talk about it.

We had an incident two or three years ago, at a club I belong to. I wasn't there at the time but a young guy came in, just back from the sandbox and all full of piss and vinegar. He apparently didn't get the obsequious attention he felt he deserved the moment he walked in, and wrote a scathing piece about it for his blog, which was widely read in certain circles and how I got dragged into this story. "You know about this Internet stuff, Bruce. You try to explain it to him."

But how do you explain it to a cocky 20-something-year-old? That old guy with the broom that you insulted so freely? He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. That other old guy behind the counter that you heaped all your best vicious scorn on? He landed at Inchon. If he moves a little too slowly to suit your tastes, perhaps it's because of how he got his third Purple Heart. But you'd have to know him a whole lot better than you bothered to take the time to, before he'd say anything more than, "Yeah, I was in the Corps. I seen some shit."

I'm sorry. I wander, and blather on too long. Anyway, that's the subject of this week's Friday Challenge. Memorial Day: what's it mean to you?

As always, we're playing by the ever-evolving but still not updated Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind the recently updated Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, 5/28/09.

As for what Memorial Day means for me: yard and garden work, mostly. But I expect that come sunset, when the work is done, I just might sit out on the deck and have a cold beer, and I might even lift a toast. To Tom, who came back, but then committed slow suicide by booze and cigarette. To Dean, who survived two tours as a door gunner on a Huey, only to die slowly and painfully from cancer. And to Dick, and Gary, and Lance, and Leo, and all the other ones who never came back...

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