I was at a family potluck yesterday and was able to talk with relatives I haven’t seen for a long time. My cousin handed me a copy of my great-great grandfather’s discharge papers from the U.S. Army in 1865. A mere private in Company K, 7th Regiment of the Minnesota Infantry. He enlisted six days before Christmas, 1863 for a three year stint, but only spent 18 months in uniform. Reason for discharge was “Circular from Surgeon General Office, May 4, 1865”. I suspect he may have been wounded, although there is no family history indicating this. The document is a beautiful piece of handwork, written largely by hand in splendid penmanship.
Yesterday my second oldest cousin spontaneously began talking about his experiences in Vietnam from 1965-66. Apparently, he doesn’t talk about such things usually. I listened.
My father was a veteran. My brother is a veteran. All my uncles, save one, were (are) veterans. My maternal grandfather was a WWI Navy veteran who allegedly gave President Wilson an order to throw his cigar overboard one night. I suspect the story is a true one. I know Wilson traveled on the ship on which grandpa served.
I just returned from the local cemetery where the American Legion came, as they do every year, with their honor guard for a brief, five minute salute to the dead. Taps was played. Those bugles always strike at the heart. A large group of locals showed up to pay respects.
I continue to believe that war is uncalled for, avoidable, unnecessary and a great evil. There is in all reality no need for it. I am inches from being a pacifist, but I am not yet there and may never be. I have never spoken with any combat veteran who has seen the realities of a ground battle that has ever said anything that speaks of the nobility or greatness of war. Heroic acts are done undoubtedly, but done to ensure the survival of one’s comrades. It is for family and the relationship of brothers-in-arms that battles are fought and men die.
I honor the dead. I honor their willingness to sacrifice. I judge none of them. They have lived more honorably than I would have lived had I been in their situations.
It is they whom we honor today, not the “glories” of war.