From The Chief-of-Staff
Comments from Memorial Day 2019
When asked to speak to you today, I was both surprised and humbled. Just what in the world would I say to the people around here? I’m really not even a suburbanite. I’m a country kid, a homemaker, and a member of VFW Post 2801.
Like many veterans who returned to the U.S. after their time in Southeast Asia years ago, I realized no one wanted us around. And, like many others then, I learned to blend in with the woodwork. There were no parades, welcome home parties. Frankly, in those days, I felt things were better in Southeast Asia. At least you knew who was gunnin’ for you over there.
So, I felt some measure of apprehension when I went up those steps at the VFW hall the first time. Would this be another exercise in frustration? Would I be treated as veterans were when they returned from Southeast Asia some 50 years or so ago?
But, this time things were different. I knocked on a door; and someone said, “Come on in.” And, I walked into an office with a bunch old guys sitting around giving each other a hard time by pointing out each other’s obvious flaws and limitations, when one gentleman looked up and asked: “May I help you, Miss?”
And, I thought; “Well, flattery is a real good start!”
So, I told him that I would like to become a member of the Post and that I had my separation papers from the Army and I had a VFW membership card from a few years before but never really was part of any post.
So, it was: “Let’s take a look.” I handed the gentleman my documents and as he perused them… I got a raised eyebrow.
Now, was that raised eyebrow a “She don’t look like much” or some other subtle indication of “maybe she’s here for something far more nefarious… Like maybe she’s here to make new curtains?”
I was wrong on both counts.
Then he announced the decision: You’re qualified! And we can have you assigned to this post…. But, you’ll have to watch out for these guys, nodding toward the other men in the office… They’re Marines.
And, that’s fine by me.
But after attending couple of meetings, it turned out, they’re absolutely wonderful. When they’re together it’s like being on the movie set with Walter Matthau, Jack Lemon, and Burgess Meredith in the movie “Grumpy Old Men.”
Then it struck me: I’d heard someplace that as men mature, they all begin to look and act like Sean Connery. And that’s a good thing. As well, as women mature, they too, can begin to look like Sean Connery. And, that’s… Not so good.
Well, it’s Memorial Day. So this is not about me or the latest & greatest home furnishing sale. But, it is about remembering and honoring those who made this day possible. It’s about those who bled the ground red.
In my memory, Memorial Day is about those veterans who were at the Somme, The Ardennes, Omaha Beach, Anzio, Guadalcanal, from Pearl Harbor to Midway, Inchon, Khe Sahn, the A Shaw Valley, Hue, Chau Doc, Kabul, to name a few… And, the veterans who are still with us.
The veterans were not there for the money, they were there because they knew it was their duty. And no matter how inconvenient, they did their job.
General Colin Powell once observed that “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”
So, when you see they latest action, adventure films, Keep in mind: Those people are actors and actresses. Those folks live in palatial homes, have maids, make up people, wardrobe people, legions of attendants, and let’s not forget the stunt doubles. Then they receive bags of money for performing their art. It’s all an act, an illusion. As often as not, you’re looking at computerized simulations from the special effects wizards. The dramatic explosions… acetylene gas releases for the gigantic fire ball. Every bit carefully orchestrated for your amusement.
But combat is different. There aren’t any stunt doubles, wardrobe people, or make-up people. The explosions are artillery, mortar shells and rockets; and the wounds the bullets make are real.
Further, in combat, soldiers must by military doctrine accomplish undoable tasks, often the impossible. At the same time they must deny their human emotions, that which spurs them to do the impossible. Thus, the combat is both internal as well as external.
So, why do so many men and women stay in the military? Certainly not for the money, it’ not bad but it isn’t great either. It’s often a high-risk business. And, you’ll only stay in one place for a couple of years, then it’s off to the next assignment. As I reflect on what made it worth it. It was the relationships with others of like mind while you do your duty. It is the understanding of each other among the members, and that’s what makes comrades, “comrades.”
What special about them? They chose… They chose to do those things that others would not do, so they can continue doing that which others can’t.
As for me, I am not a hero, but I walk among them. And, they all carry their scars… some of them horrendous. But they don’t let on. Now, my business is to serve them; those known and those unknown… Which is both an honor and often a pleasure.
For those who fell before us, I salute you. May they rest in the arms of God. For those still among us. Don’t mess with them; they’re mine.
And, I am Charlene Marie.