Today, I’m reposting a Veterans’ Day post that first appeared on my LiveJournal, and then I reposted to FaceBook on Veterans’ Day 2009. It could probably use some updating, maybe next time. Please scroll all the way to the end, don’t miss the pictures.
Today is Veteran’s Day. It’s weird that this day was just another one of those days on the calendar, like Flag Day or V-J Day, until a few years ago. I remember, it was while I was in grad school, one year everyone was all, like, “Oh. There’s no class next Thursday . . . for Veteran’s Day? Since when do we get that day off? Is that the state of California? Oh, it’s federal now, OK?” I do not know how this came to pass, but I guess I am glad. I mean, we have Memorial Day, which is similar. Of course, that one is a “free Monday”, which always seems a bit crass, but people likes the three day weekends.
I am glad we have this day now. I think it is good to think about what people sacrifice. Especially for a lot of us who for a variety of cultural, circumstantial, and coincidental reasons may not really know too many folks who have served in the military or are in the military now. Lots of American families have been directly affected by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not mine, and not the families of most of my friends.
Which brings me to my dad’s experience with Vietnam. My dad is a chronically underweight, flatfooted, slope-shouldered, self-declared 98 pound weakling. (Actually, he weighs 130 lbs. and has since high school.) When his draft number came up after college, the Army doctor declared some kind of “we only call you up if the Russians are actually on US soil” classification and he happily went on to Library school. I am not making this up.
He did have several friends who either volunteered or were drafted. Two of them never came back. One of them, Jimmy Hackett signed up for the Marines the day he turned 18. He had wanted to be a Marine his whole life. The Hacketts were friends of my grandparents, and were unable to have biological children. They adopted two boys who were years younger than my dad, so Dad knew Jimmy his whole life. Jimmy was in Vietnam a week when he stepped on a land mine. My dad’s other friend was Patrick Hayes. Dad and Patrick went to school together and Patrick’s dad was the photographer who took pictures at my parents’ wedding.
Of course, neither Patrick nor Jimmy got married, neither finished college, had their own kids, bought a house or did any of the other fun things that we all complain about and take for granted. Of course, they also never got fat, out of shape, decrepit, had to put up with a bad boss, got laid off, had their kids skip school or any of the crappy stuff we complain about and take for granted. They never saw eight track tapes, CDs, VCRs, cell phones, the fall of the communist governmental structures that they gave their lives for, the Superbowl era, the Packers second coming under Brett Favre or the success of the space program. They also did not have to watch a series of 70s, 80s and 90s Presidents make a mockery of the institution of the Presidency, the social and civil collapse of southeast Asia, the crack epidemic, the emergence of the mass murder as a pop culture standard.
My dad turned 67 this year. When he comes to DC he goes to the Vietnam Memorial and look at Patrick and Jimmy’s names. For Patrick and Jimmy, there are no kids, no grandkids. I wonder who will come look in another 40 years. I took pictures of their names for my dad. Through the miracle of FaceBook, I can post them here.
For better or for worse, this is my memorial to Jimmy and Patrick. I don’t know how long it will last, or how many people will read it, but here it is anyway.