It is on Memorial Day that we so often witness a cultural nod to the official day; the parades, flag waving and speeches. But in reality, for a public in which a very slender percentage actually know anything about war and its human costs, it is a day off, a barbeque, a long weekend. When you talk to combat veterans who actually witnessed and participated in the horrors war they are much more circumspect about such observances. Please don’t find one and quip, “Thanks for your service.” For many that is an uninformed comment that demonstrates a total lack of understanding.
After Karl Marlantes graduated from Yale in 1968 and before going to on to graduate work at Oxford, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. As a result of his action as a lieutenant he became highly decorated. After return to civilian life Marlantes not only pursued a distinguished career. He also continued to exorcise the demons of his wartime experience. In his 2011 memoir, What it is Like to go to War, he describes, as much as anyone can, the real experience of the warrior and war. Like many who have served in similar ways, including those who have recently returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marlantes attempts to give voice to the alienation, sense of betrayal, and guilt which accompanied him. Writing this memoir was one of the many ways ways he sought to heal the inner wounds of war. And the following excerpt is taken from his memoir:
“Returning veterans don’t need ticker-tape parades or yellow ribbons stretching clear across Texas. Cheering is inappropriate and immature. Combat veterans, more than anyone else, know how much pain and evil have been wrought. To cheer them for what they’ve just done would be like cheering the surgeon when he amputates a leg to save someone’s life. It’s childish, and it’s demeaning to those who have fallen on both sides. A quiet grateful handshake is what you give the surgeon, while you mourn the lost leg.There should be parades, but they should be solemn processionals, rifles upside down, symbol of the sword sheathed once again. They should be conducted with all the dignity of a military funeral, mourning for those lost on both sides, giving thanks for those returned. ..
Veterans just need to be received back into their community, reintegrated with those they love, and thanked by the people who sent them…
There is also a deeper side to coming home. The returning warrior needs to heal more than his mind and body. He needs to heal his soul.”