When I first started writing, Memorial Day was a hard thing to write about for me. I’d just burned back through the atmosphere into the rest of the world that was detached from the commitment I’d made. Listening to the Memorial Day messages was touching a raw nerve. The common narrative of the transitioning vet was one of trauma and the crisis of lost friends. Invisible wounds…and so on. That wasn’t the raw nerve for me. The raw nerve was hypocrisy.
Listening to people thank dead people for dying so that they could live their lives freely, when I knew that they died in stupid wasteful wars that didn’t mean a thing to anyone’s ability to eat a cheeseburger or watch a baseball game, gnawed at me. I had lost friends. It didn’t leave me with survivors guilt or PTSD. It left me with an inescapable thought that we’d wasted the life that they had. And this was nothing to celebrate. It was a tragedy.
I was angry. And so my writing was angry writing. I thundered away about the responsibility we have to not kill our kids in service to failed political nonsense. I beat people with the truth. I did it for my friends. It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done; raw and honest. Filled with pain and rebellion. I wouldn’t take it back. It’s incomplete though.
Time has passed. And it’s done the work that only time can really do on anyone. There are more footprints in the dirt on the path I’ve walked away from the war. And when I turn back to look at it now, I can see it more clearly from a distance. Wars are avoidable. But war is not. And neither is the price we ask of our young men and women. If we need to tell ourselves it’s in service to freedom to heal our wounds and sooth our conscience, then fine. In some roundabout way, it’s not wrong. There is no world without war. And so the cost is intertwined with our existence. In America, it’s a reasonably free one…for now. And so the thought comes full circle. These are our dead. And they died for us.
All that’s left now is to do the one thing I’ve never really done. I’ve mourned my friends. I’ve grieved for them. I’ve wailed at the world about the truth of their sacrifice. But I’ve never thanked them.
So here goes. To Ben, Jeremy, Shelly, Scotty, Seth and Paul Clyde, who all died in some way preparing to fight, fighting or trying to learn how to stop fighting, for us. Thank you. And I’m so sorry you’re not here anymore. What you did will never be forgotten. As long as one person remembers you, it isn’t over. And I promise to be that one person for each of you.