The phrase "Happy Memorial Day" — which today finds its way into newspaper headlines across the country, as well as websites from ESPN to perezhilton.com — can be seen as:
• a more specific variation on the theme, "Happy Three-Day Weekend";
• a reflexive symptom of Hallmark-fueled desensitization;
• or an expression of the indomitable spirit of the American people.
In any case, the holiday itself is an observance that dates back the American Civil War, a remembrance of those lost in the theater of war that remains all too real and all too relevant to this day.
This past Friday, I received an uncorrected proof of Donald Anderson's Gathering Noise From My Life: A Camouflaged Memoir. Anderson is a professor of English and Writer in Residence at the U.S. Air Force Academy whom I'd interviewed, along with his student Jason Armagost, for a cover story a couple years ago. Armagost was in the lead aircraft of the "Shock and Awe" mission that signaled the beginning of the Iraq war.
Here is a passage from Anderson's memoir, which threads his own draft-age experience with those of young soldiers today. The book will be published by University of Iowa Press in September. Scroll down further for a video of Richard Thompson's "Meet on the Ledge" that may provide some measure of solace on this most poignant of holidays.
"Draft lottery '#1' for the 1970 drawing is July 9: my birthday. I immediately join Air Force ROTC. My plan is to stay clear of the army (more soldiers being buried than airmen). And if forced to Vietnam, I mean to be forced there as a lieutenant — an officer in charge of his future. The month I sign up for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Pentagon releases to the public news of 34 deaths in 209 incidents in Vietnam of officer "fraggings" — that is, U.S. officers being attacked by their own soldiers. Attacks on officers by their own troops in time of war reached unprecedented proportions in Vietnam, with some historians reporting as many as 2,000 incidents a year.
A female air force captain, recently returned from Afghanistan, rightly spoke of the youth of the troops: "All they want to do is eat pop tarts and play video games and all we do is give them grenades.'"