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Another Memorial Day is upon us. Not that it’s that big a deal to
most Americans, who don’t seem to understand what this holiday is all
about. But for combat veterans and their families, it’s a day of
reflection, a time to honor fallen comrades.

As the years pass, M-Day’s taken on an even more special meaning for
me. Old pals who back in their young and foolish days were brave mud
soldiers are checking out faster than I want to count.

Almost every week now I get the word that another brother’s gone.
Sometimes it’s a phone call in the middle of the night, a letter or an
obituary piece I’ve been sent about a friend I fought alongside.

Each death notice brings pain. Some bring tears. All bring reflection
that dials up the face of a brother I grew to love a long time ago. A
love born from terrible strife where we had the searing privilege of
getting to know each other as few men ever do.

Back then, we thought we were damned to be the chosen few. But now,
so many years later, we know the truth: It was the defining and most
challenging period of our lives.

Together, we saw the elephant.

On the battlefield there’s no faking it. A guy is either a good man
who’d die before letting his brothers down or a dud the outfit figures
out how to unload. You get to join The Brotherhood only if you’re
trusted, only because you’ve earned the respect of the other elephant
hunters.

For me, after the shock wears off from hearing the bad news, reason
sets in: “Eventually, everyone’s going out feet first. My old friend
just beat me by a few ticks.”

Next, the process seems to move quickly to the good times shared and
why my pal was so special and why his memory won’t disappear until I do.

Then I’m ringing a brother, giving him word of the death, and we
start in with the old “Remember when …” jazz, retelling all the fun
stuff about our fallen mate. We never dwell on the horror or go to the
dark side of the moon. Maybe that’s how we keep it together and move on.

Another thought that always comes front and center in my head is why
did Frank or Billy or Phil die now and not me? This was the question we
all silently asked ourselves back on the battlefield when a comrade
didn’t get up after a fight. It didn’t seem fair then, and it doesn’t
now. But whoever said this crap game called life was fair?

The loved ones of World War II and the Korean vets are hearing “Taps”
played at funerals at the rate of almost 2,000 a day, and now the
Vietnam vets are stepping up for their turn at the death plate. The
combat-vet dying business has become a boom industry and will continue
to roar for the next couple of decades until the ranks are exhausted.

And by then, M-Day might have morphed further into a meaningless
extended weekend party, no longer even momentarily interrupted by
glimpses of flags or sound bites from politicians jawing some insincere
patriotic gobbledygook. Only the still-serving and families and friends
of the departed will still care about what our warriors went through,
the sacrifices they made.

Seems like we’re almost there now. Liberty and the good life are so
taken for granted that few folks can be bothered to spend M-Day
remembering — honoring those who died so we could be free to do our
thing. No one’s had to buy a freedom ticket for a long time, and the
living’s easy. Minimum wage, Social Security, a college degree — all
that good American stuff — are there pretty much for the asking. No
price of admission paid. No respect for those who did pay. Just gimme
gimme gimme.

I’m afraid one of these days soon some fast operator will come along
and try to change Memorial Day into something else. You know, a name
change due to a new sponsor.

Hope you’ll kill that ignoble idea quick smart and that you’ll visit
a Veterans Home this week and tell those valiant men and women you
haven’t forgotten their sacrifices.

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