Memorial Day means different things to different people. For some it will be miserable, dark and nightmarish, as they sift through thoughts of their personal fallen. For others it will be a celebration, gay and riotous, the way their fallen would want them to be living life. But for most, Memorial Day is a day off. It’s a “thank you for your service,” a wave your banner in the parade, then salute the flag before you move on to used car deals, mattress sales and restaurant freebies. Worse yet, for some it’s just another holiday signaling the end of spring and the approach of summer — federal, like the government they despise.
But for me, Memorial Day is the crack of a bullet, sharp and cheerful, taunting, remarking how close it came. It’s the crack of a spring-loaded steel needle plunging through breast bone, desperate, hoping, praying to save a life. It’s the crack of a Budweiser at a welcome home barbecue, its bubbling sigh of relief interrogating why I made it back when others didn’t.
But Memorial Day is not just the cracks of the bullet, the breastbone and the beer. It’s the face of the Marine you wish you could remember before it was covered in the same blood that drained from it. It’s the face of the child you wish you could forget before treating the severed arm that dangled from his elbow. It’s the face of a soldier’s father you wish you hadn’t lied to when you told him yes, you knew his son and yes, you would miss him dearly.
But Memorial Day is not just the cracks of the bullet, breastbone and beer. It is not just the faces of the soldier, child and parent. It’s waking up to the smoke of hot carbon, the acrid, minty coal, the smell of M-4 carbines ripping through the air. It’s the shudder when you’re told you and your friends are merely representatives of the Imperial War Machine. It’s the shake to knock off clay-colored moondust that somehow stowed its way into your mind the way it did in your seabag.
But Memorial Day is not just the cracks of the bullet, the breastbone and the beer. It’s not just the faces of the Marine, the child and the father. It’s not just the smoke, the shudder or the shake. It’s not a day for veterans or for service members, it’s not a festival or a funeral. It is a time to sit in a circle, warriors and civilians, inhaling the smoke of campfires and whiskey shots and speaking the names of the fallen. It is a time to remember the ones who gave their lives, whether they wanted to or not, and whether you wanted them to or not.
Remember the cracks and faces, the smoke, shudders and shakes. Remember, so that when you’re in power, you know what –– and who –– is at stake. Remember, because future generations must one day look back on us with pity and incredulity for the suffering over race, religion and resources. Remember, because the altar of national conflict is proving itself unworthy of the men and women who lay upon it. Remember, because if the blood of patriots is drying up, then who will refresh your rotting tree of liberty?
Remember, remember, remember. All I ask is that you remember with me.
Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.