Essayist remembers his Vietnam buddies
Every American has his or her own way of marking Memorial Day. For some it's just a three-day weekend. But for others, including essayist Peter Smith, it means a lot more.
Smith: Every Memorial Day, I take out my dog tags and I put them on again. They're the only things I have left from my time in the Army. Wearing them on Memorial Day has become a tradition-a reminder of a couple of friends and some really hard times.
The friends are less than two feet apart on that wall in Washington-their deaths came less than two months apart in the middle of a terrible year. I drop by to visit them whenever I get to town. I stand there and touch both names and think about all the promise they had-how they were both so suddenly and cruelly and absolutely truncated. They were so young. Who knows what they might have done? Instead, they just stopped. They ended. They ceased to be.
I went on-maybe tinged with a bit of survivor's syndrome-but I went on nonetheless. I came home, went to work, fell in love, got married, had kids... I lived. I lived and I put those hard times away.
Still, like my dog tags, I bring them out for Memorial Day to remind myself who-and what-I really am. And the older I get, the more poignant Memorial Day gets. The further I get from the age we were when my buddies died, the deeper, the sadder and yet strangely-more-gentle the pain.
The more important it becomes to appreciate everything that is exquisite, in ordinary, day to day life-the kind of day to day life they never got to live.
Time passes so quickly. There were still a couple of Spanish American War vets doddering around my home town's Memorial Day services when I was growing up. And a few World War One vets. And lots of World War Two and Korean war vets. Now there are just a few World War Two and Korean War vets. And lots of younger vets from the Gulf war, Iraq and Afghanistan.
And here it is-Memorial Day again. Time to put on the dog tags, think about my buddies, remember those times and appreciate everything exquisite in day to day life.
Time to resist the urge to dodder and soldier on.
- Morning Edition, 05/28/2010, 7:25 a.m.