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By Kimara - Posted on 27 May 2008

          When I was in college I met a man that had just returned from the war in Vietnam. He sequestered himself in his uncle’s hunting lodge that was a few door’s down from my parent’s cottage. Over the summer we became friends. He never slept…or he tried not to. I’d see him sitting at the end of the dock when I went to bed at night, and no matter how early I got up, there he was, cigarette glowing in the early morning light. He let me into his world…we talked, but never about the war. As the summer rolled on, he’d even laugh. One day I wandered over to see if he wanted to go for a midnight fish. Yes, I know, fish don’t bite at 12:00 a.m. but the biggest fish I ever caught was on one of these late night excursions. I was casting and reeling, chatting away, when I felt resistance. Seems I snagged a poor, unsuspecting sleeping fish! Talk about a rude awakening! I let him go, apologizing profusely, and continued practicing my casting. Anyway, I entered the cabin just in time to witness my friend rousing himself from a hideous nightmare. And then we talked.


            He shared his nightmare, the same one that plagued him every time he slept. Actually, it wasn’t so much a nightmare as a memory, one that he tried to banish during the day. While meandering through a Vietnamese jungle, he rounded a tree and found himself standing at the edge of a very small clearing. Not 6 feet away from him was a surprised Vietcong soldier. They both looked at each other. There was a pause. Time passed; enough time to look into each others eyes; time enough to notice sweat streaming down the young man’s face. Both were hesitant to shoot; that close; that personal. Both knew one of them would die. Survival overcame my friend, and he shot first. One shot, and he watched as life drained out of his preordained enemy’s body. He stayed there a long time. He wondered if this unknown man had a wife and child. He wondered if his body would be found before the insidious heat began to distort his features. And he wondered why he hadn’t been the one that died that day.


            That fall, after closing up the cottage and heading back to school I got a call from him. Said he was in town and wondered if I had time for dinner. I readily accepted, and when he showed up I realized he had been drinking. Without any prelude he asked me to marry him. This came as a complete surprise to me since we had never kissed and never treated each other as anything but friends. It broke my heart, but I had to decline. He left, and I never heard from him again. Several years later I saw his aunt at the hunting lodge. Her husband had died and she was up there getting the place ready to sell. I asked about my friend. She said he had taken a job in West Virginia, was married and had two little girls. And he was happy!


            It took the passage of many more years before I realized what happened that summer. He had been emotionally injured and looking for help. I was young and innocent to the atrocities he had experienced. I think that by simply surrounding himself with purity he hoped to erase the pain of memories that he could never elude. Obviously, he found someone else shortly after me that said “yes”. And he had a family. Over the years I have continued to pray that the nightmares stopped.


            Memorial Day weekend has come to symbolize the “kick off” of summer. It is now socially acceptable to wear white, annual flowers are planted and a long weekend means picnics and “get togethers” with family and friends. What it doesn’t include for many Americans, shamefully myself included, is time set aside to memorialize those brave men and women, who gave up their lives to help safeguard freedom for us all. It’s easy to become desensitized today. Movies mimic real life. Real life, in the form of news, becomes entertainment. We are bombarded with so much carnage and violence we become emotionally immune.


            This year I want to pledge to be more patriotic. This Memorial Day I want to remember not only the men and women who died serving this country, but everyone that put their life on hold to fight for freedom, leaving behind their innocence and blessed ignorance on the field of battle, like my friend. I want to show more respect to the uniform, and NEVER forget that the lifeless feet sticking out from under tarps on the evening news do not belong to actors, but rather real people; sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers…and friends. I want to remember that my Uncle Harry died in the Korean War, that my cousin Butchy died in Vietnam and that hundreds of brave Americans are dying today in a part of the world I never want to see. I want to force myself to remember…lest I forget!   

Being patriotic is really a noble action and such a great character,I'm glad that someone like you is one. - Marla Ahlgrimm

I agree with Sarah, this was a very moving blog. I know a few men that have been in Iraq and an acquaintance that died there. I really never gave much thought to Memorial Day except our apartment was on the main drag of town so all "parades" went right past our window. Until recently I really didn't give much thought to the "real people" the day was about. My friends have changed that. I think it's funny that a day set aside to honor our dead is also part of a weekend to celebrate life and leisure. Something very Zen about that!

WOW! What a moving blog! We really don't do anything special on Memorial Day in keeping with the day either. We just enjoy the long weekend. When I was younger my mom and I use to go to the cemetery and put flowers on my dad's grave, but I don't even do that since I live much farther from it now. And I couldn't agree with you more about the desensitizing about violence because of movies and the news. Thanks again for making me thing, even sad thoughts! Have a great week everyone!