In Memoriam

I last visited Arlington National Cemetery right before my friend John Milkewicz shipped off to Iraq. I am very thankful that he came home. Memorial Day is for those soldiers who did not.

It began after the Civil War as Decoration Day, for decorating the graves of soldiers. After World War II it became more commonplace. I know many veterans, family and friends. I am grateful that they came home. The only family member I know who died at war was Nicholas Pucci, who served in the Korean War.

Let us remember the dead today, and the true cost of war, which echoes through the generations. The lost promise, the families left gouged by their absence, and the burden those who made it home must carry.

American Civil War 625,000
World War II 405,399
World War I 116,516
Vietnam 58,151
Korean War 36,516
American Revolutionary War 25,000
War of 1812 15,000
Mexican American War 13,283
War on terror* present 6,717
Philippine–American War 4,196
The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Audie Murphy's grave
Audie Murphy’s grave
The Grave of Joe Louis
The Grave of Joe Louis
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Just one small corner.
Just one small corner.

Memorial Day Story: The Long Walk Home

Memorial Day originally came about to honor the Confederate dead in the War Between the States, and now encompasses all who have served at home and abroad. I won’t make hollow platitudes about thanking soldiers for our freedoms. I thank them all for their service, in combat or otherwise, and believe our government treats them shabbily, and we tolerate that treatment… or we’d have stopped it by now.
After reading On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Dave Grossman, I feel the deepest of empathies for every soldier who was sent to war willingly or unwillingly.

I’ve written several stories veterans and war, the most recent being BLADE OF DISHONOR, which begins in World War 2 with the Devil’s Brigade and ends in the present day, traveling through Japanese POW camps and underground MMA fights along the way. That is sitting with my patient editor David Cranmer at BEAT TO A PULP, so let me share you a much shorter novel about a veteran who comes home to a different world: “The Long Walk Home,” which appears in Burnt Bridge.

 

messages-from-zippo-lighters-of-american-soldiers-in-vietnam-4

Memorial Day- Fleet Week and Arlington Cemetery

Firecracker, her nieces, and a few good men.

It’s Memorial Day and we all know what that means besides the first peak in gas prices of the summer- Fleet Week. As you can see, all the girls were giggling their way across town, giddy at the prospect of men in uniform. We came upon these few good men in Little Italy after a touristy dinner at Puglia’s, a decent enough spot with Jorge Buccio the Italian Elvis crooning out tunes like “Hey Gumbaree.” They were kind enough to pose for photos with the out of towner kids.

The Mast of the U.S.S. Maine

These photos are from Arlington Cemetery. Darth Milk and I visited in 2005 during our trip to D.C. It is a serene and holy place, even for us irreligious folk. It was first used in the Civil War, and the land was Robert E. Lee’s family property. When he turned traitor, the Army quartermaster dug up Mrs. Lee’s rose gardens and lined tombstones to the doorstep of the family home, to mark the ignominy of the war for generations to come. Just one of many vengeful excesses that would culminate in Sherman’s March to the sea.

The tomb of the unknown soldier


Memorial Day is a holiday of convenience. It was originally called Decoration Day, and arose to honor those who died preserving the Union, and was rarely celebrated in the South of course. In 1868 it was changed to the last Monday in May and given its new name, to give us all a 3 day weekend and include remembrance of all soldiers who perish in service to their country. Veteran’s Day on November 11th has always been more powerful to me- it commemorates the end of the First World War, on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. It was originally called Armistice Day, but it has the honor of at least happening on the same day each year, the anniversary of the greatest folly of war undertaken in modern memory.

Headstone after headstone in Arlington.

Kurt Vonnegut is oft quoted on the internet, and he actually said some of the things attributed to him. This one’s from Breakfast of Champions, about Veteran’s Day. Vonnegut himself served in WW2, and was a POW in Dresden as we bombed it. He was one of the few POWs to survive the bombing, and you can say it affected him deeply.

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.


In Arlington Cemetery they bury 35 people a day; World War 2 veterans are passing away at a rate of 1800 a day now that most of them are in their 80’s. In Iraq, we have lost 4,082 soldiers and 33,000 wounded. Let’s remember the 150,000 plus men and women we have fighting overseas right now while we guzzle our beer and gobble our hot dogs, and consider bringing them home.