Hello, Asheville: It’s me again. This time, I want to start out by considering Memorial Day. The good news is I survived it (as I did Vietnam). The major difference is that Vietnam was more impressive — nay, more memorable — for me. And Memorial Day now seems to be celebrated mainly by going to the mall to catch the sales rather than remembering our veterans.
That makes sense to lots of folks. But, as regular readers of this column can guess, that’s not the perspective I’m gonna take. I’ve found my place in the food chain by putting down my warped perspective in print and getting paid for it. Admittedly, it’s a pittance, but — in some obtuse way — it validates the notion that there’s money to be made from being a half-bubble shy of sanity.
Memorial Day was easy to survive. President Clinton went on television to ask Americans to stop whatever they were doing at 3 p.m., local time, to reflect on the sacrifices made by all of our nation’s veterans.
So let’s look at all the veterans. May God bless you one and all — those that are left, anyway. Reportedly, 1,500 World War II veterans now die each month. Each and every one of you is a warrior who went wherever and did whatever you were told to do — usually clueless as to the bigger picture. Folks seem to forget that we were mostly kids in whatever war, and kids like me didn’t often have access to — nor were we inclined to ponder — the big picture. And there wasn’t a helluva lot you could do about things anyway. After all, the military is an entity unto itself in our democracy.
One could almost call it fascist. The military has its own law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It follows a chain of command that ends up with the commander in chief: the president. Now that is a ton of power for one frail earthling to possess considering that it takes more than one frail earthling to declare war in this country. Congress (a big bunch of frail earthlings) does that. Yet we haven’t had a war officially declared since what is popularly dubbed “a day that will live in infamy”: the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Spooky, eh?
And it irks the hell out of me that my fellow vets from the Korean conflict have yet to receive the gratitude and recognition they deserve. Roughly as many of those guys were sacrificed as their brothers in Vietnam. The major difference seems to be that, somehow, Vietnam has become trendy and socially acceptable — which was certainly not the case when I came home from there after being wounded for the third time.
Ironic footnote: I got only two Purple Hearts out of the entire debacle. The last zap was when the Huey I was driving got shot down from roughly 600 feet. Besides the bullet through my left leg, I still had gravity and terra firma to help me crash-land. That added injury to injury — shortly followed by insult. Why? Col. Webb visited me while I was in traction at Long Binh hospital. He (God rest his soul) explained that a Purple Heart with an oak-leaf cluster (signifying that you’ve earned two of them) makes your troops see you as one bad motorscooter. Two clusters, he explained, would make them think I was probably so stupid that I’d either get them all Purple Hearts — or get them killed. So I got one oak-leaf cluster for my bronze star instead. I didn’t give a damn. I was on some heavy Demerol.
So much for war stories. Now I’m gonna get weird on you. Our nation devotes too much time to war. To paraphrase George Carlin, even our national anthem has bombs and rockets in it. My humble opinion is that war already gets more than enough federal holiday time, what with Memorial Dayand Veterans Day. And we have a precedent for combining those two holidays into one.
When my black cousins gained the requisite political clout to get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday recognized as a federal holiday, two presidents’ birthdays got lumped into Presidents Day. I have only two small issues with that: One, Dr. King’s full name is just too long to fit on street signs. Two (and more important), the black members of the Railroad Porters Union were the prime movers of the civil-rights movement in persuading an initially reluctant hero to follow his destiny.
Hence, I propose that we combine Memorial and Veterans days — which would give us another federal holiday to play around with. And should we not have a day to venerate all of those for whom we fought? I’m talking about those shoppers, folks. At the very least, it would give some of the blood that has been spilled real meaning. As Gen. MacArthur said so well, “Old soldiers never die They just fade away.” We have Labor Day for producers. Why not set aside a day for consumers, so they can go to the mall without leaving us old soldiers feeling that we are inexorably fading away?
Let Americans resolve to spend more holiday time celebrating peace. Perhaps it will serve to distract us from being the policemen of the world.
If I have pissed you off, write to my boss. But it would probably do all three of us more good to just get laid — to make love, not war — and then go shopping.
[Asheville resident Alan Willcox is a frequent contributor to Xpress‘ “Commentary” section.]