BY JEFF CLARK
On Monday, many of us will have a holiday from work and we will spend the day with our friends and families as we take time time to observe Memorial Day. Designated by the federal government, Memorial Day is the final Monday in May, a day to remember those who died in American wars protecting our freedom and unalienable rights. It also is the unofficial start of summer.
Although it is to honor the men and women who gave their lives for their country, perhaps Memorial Day should also be a day to think about who lost their souls fighting for their country — men and women who who would slowly die over a period of years from the trauma of the horrors that occur during wartime. Are their lives any less important than those killed in combat?
I understand the concept of Veteran’s Day and I’m not tying it to Memorial Day. But what about those who diligently fought and served for their country only to come home to a life of alcoholism, addiction and mental instability? Were their war experiences any less valiant because it took 20 years for them to die from cancer or alcoholism?
My father was a good man through my eyes. He was a provider, a hard worker and he always took time for his family. He was loving and kind. He was a veteran, a patriot, a functional alcoholic, who in the end became just a regular alcoholic.
Drafted at 18, my father spent two tours of duty in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 and he was in country during the Tet Offensive. He was allowed to visit my mother in Hawaii for two weeks but then he had to go straight back to the war. This concept is enough to drive anyone to drink.
We never discussed the war during my childhood; in fact, it wasn’t until after my father’s death that I learned more about his time in Vietnam. According to his discharge papers, he was an infantryman and a gunner. I’m not an expert on the military, but that sounds like a pretty intense position to have held in the US Army in Vietnam in the late 1960s. I also learned that fewer than 10 people out of my dad’s company lived through the experience. So, I’m assuming he saw some pretty heavy combat.
Whatever happened in Vietnam would haunt my father for the rest of his life. He worked hard every day and loved us as much as he could, but he drank excessively at night and the drinking took him to some dark places.
He died on April 2, 2003, at the young age of 56. Alcoholism and the war had finally killed him. I don’t sit in judgment of my father’s life and death. No, I, too, know how the powerful demons of alcoholism and addiction can get the best and worst of someone simultaneously. If you don’t know what addiction is like, imagine having to have something so badly you felt you were going to die if you did not get it. But, people can recover from addiction.
I am certain there are many others like my father — those who came home and slipped between the cracks and faded into oblivion. I love my father dearly and he will always be my hero. Does the fact that it took a war 20 years to kill him make him any less of a hero? No, it doesn’t. My father gave his life for his country. And a few months before he died he wanted to enlist and help with the fighting in Iraq. He loved his country until the day he died and he was willing to sacrifice his shattered life to do it all over again. I hope there are still patriots like my father left in this world.
Memorial Day is a day of observance. I encourage you to take some time to remember those who gave their lives for their country. They are American heroes and they deserve our respect and admiration. As the popular phrase says, “Hate the war, love the warrior.”
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”
– Bob Dylan
Footnote: In the wake of the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., the American Red Cross needs your assistance. If you would like to help people affected by disasters like the recent tornado in Oklahoma, they can visit www.redcross.org/mississippi, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your gift enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected. Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross Office.
Jeff Clark is the Managing Editor of The Columbus Packet. You can reach him at email@example.com/packet.0