Twenty-six years ago this October I spent a long half hour under some sort of Caribbean bush with a man about my age. We didn't have much to say. And he couldn't chat much, anyway, being dead.
I didn't know, and never learned, who he was, or how he had come to that lonely little hole, under the roadside bush, to be killed defending his hardscrabble little island from the power and the glory of the United States of America. But there he was. Twenty-something years of diapers and lullabies, stories and tears and hugs, schoolbooks, scoldings, ideas and ideals, love and fear and hate and hope had come down to this; face-down in his scattered effluvia, eventually to be dragged away and tipped into a hole and covered up like trash.
His place at the table forever vacant, his memory slowly fading.
I'm here, today, with my wife and my children and my house safe around me. And a lot of that was because of the willingness of my people to fight - in the Revolution, against slavery, against fascism - and, yes, to die.
But I'll bet that if you could have asked him, he probably would have asked for nothing more.
And, as always:
"It seems to me that the VERY best thing for the majority of Americans would be to think of this Memorial Day not as time reserved for barbeques and softball in the park, but as the time it took a 19-year-old private to bleed out, alone amid the dying crowd in the grass before the wall at Fredricksburg.
The time it took a husband and father to convulse his way into death from typhus in the tent hospital outside Santiago de Cuba.
The time that the battalion runner, a former mill hand from Utica, New York, spent in a shell hole in the Argonne staring at the rest of his life drizzling out of his shattered legs.
The time it took for the jolting trip down the Apennines to the CCP, unfelt by the father of three because of the jagged rip in his gut wall that killed him that morning.
The time required to freeze a high school kid from Corvallis, Oregon, to the parched high ground above the Yalu River.
The time it took for the resupply bird to come for the plastic bag that contained what had been a young man from the Bronx who would never see the Walt Frazier he loved play again.
The time taken up by the last day in the life of a professional officer whose fiance' will never understand why she died in a "vehicular accident" in the middle of a street in Taji.
I've been proud to be a soldier, and don't kid myself that there will be a day when the killer ape "studies war no more". But the modern view of war as video entertainment for the masses sickens me. Every single fucking human being needs to have it driven into his or her forehead with a steel nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out the world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were the windows to an entire universe, once.
That the price we pay for forging our national will is paid in the unlived futures of those we kill and those of us who die to make it so.
Maybe then we'd be sure of what we want to achieve before we reopen the doors of the Temple of Janus."