We played with G.I. Joes. We set them all up and shot rubber bands at the opposing teams. My brother and I would inevitably change our aim to the little green men up to an ear or a forehead and then it was game on. There were little wounded G.I. Joe men all over the house at any given time who had given their lives so that we could have endless fun. You’d find them in the garden, around any shorter walls of our house, on the side of the toilet. There was no surface that didn’t once have a plastic soldier standing boldly for his territory. And there wasn’t any territory that our little rubber bands didn’t bounce off of. The concept of war has been built into us Americans in a vastly different way than in kids in some other countries. To us, it is a game that starts out of boredom. A strategy game where the winner gets an extra slice of pie. So naturally as the decades wane on with each generation that seems to get out of touch, more and more, with what real war is like, the message gets louder and more clear. Today, Memorial Day, is NOT a day designed to take a day off and enjoy a bar-b-que. I mean, you can do that if you want. I’m sure it will be very wonderful. I’d do it if I had a grill.
When I was 11 years old, I lived with my mother and her husband and my two brothers. We lived in Hawaii. Only I really didn’t live with my step-father because he was busy being in a war, on a ship, in the middle of the ocean… heading toward Kuwait. What a lonely and scary experience that was for us. Every day we were reminded that our father was being heroic by joining the Navy and we should be proud of him. And we were. I remember an art contest that we all entered in. Make a collage that says “Farewell.” I made a ship at the dock, with my step-father on it and my family standing there in tears as he waved at us. I won that contest. I tied it, I remember, with another person. We were given a 50.00 bond that was going to take 5 years to vest. I had no idea what any of that meant but I do know that, after five years, it came in handy to our family after my parents went through a divorce.
We went to school every day and came home, every day, awaiting news. Any news. Occasionally we’d get a video diary from him. That made us very happy! What a treat it was to see our step-father even though he was one-hundred-quatrillion miles away from us… in a land far far away. He was a brave sailor and we were his brave children.
We all ran around hanging up beautiful yellow ribbons on every tree we could possibly hang up. We wanted everyone to remember. Every day. Because we couldn’t not remember.
He came home and life resumed. We were lucky. We all are lucky.
War in other countries is not quite as romantic as it is here, and I can’t really even describe that since I’ve never been to another war-torn country. But it’s a reality in some of these countries that children’s war toys are merely preparation. By the time we were using our green men as shelving decorations, kids our age are dawning guns and training. It’s not a matter of whether one’s father will come home, it’s a question of … “Will I?” We just don’t understand that here. The closest we get is a close-miss during traffic… which is scary but it’s not war.
It takes a certain kind of person to go and sign his/her life to this country. A person who believes, above all cost, that his or her life is not as valuable as his or her country– one who would die or kill for what he or she believes in. It’s not easy. If you run from the face of the enemy, it’s even less easy.
So, on this day, as I remember my childhood experiences of the closest I have ever come to understanding war, I wish you all the most thought-provoking day of what it means to be alive now, in a country that allows us the freedoms that it does. There’s so much that needs to be changed in this country and so much work to be done on a humanitarian level; however just take a minute– stop and thank all of those who have done such brave and hard work up until now.
NOTE: Edited for inclusiveness. I mentioned men but indeed, both men and women have served our country. God Bless.