Today is Memorial Day. I almost missed it. Whereas back home I would have eagerly anticipated the holiday and celebrated it in earnest primarily for all the wrong reasons (a day off from work, barbeques, and sunshine), here, in Iraq, surrounded by soldiers who have been here through countless other holidays, birthdays, and Mondays, it came and almost went without me noticing it. In the chow hall, as we grabbed our trays, silverware and plastic plates for our lunch of steak, salad, and American flag sheet cake, we saw a note on the wall from a senior-level Army leader thanking us for our service. It would have taken far too long to stand and read the whole note so I moved on into the line for food after getting about as far into it as I'm sure most other people did: "Dear... Thank you...".
On tv they were showing "The Patriot" a movie about a man who decides to fight for American independence in the revolution because one of his sons has been killed, and another taken to be hanged for treason. While he goes on to kill many a redcoat (and one very cruel Hessian in the end using the back end of an American flag to do it), I wouldn't have picked this movie as a fitting one to remember the day. "We Were Soldiers," another Gibson flick, this one about Vietnam, played at dinner.
The frustrating thing about the concept of a memorial is that to remember something fully, or at least honestly, you must have experienced it. I don't know the whole story of that battle in Vietnam, but in a way, watching "We Were Soldiers" helped me feel like I was experiencing the battle as it took place. I hear the pain in the colonel's voice as he sends soldiers to defend a vital position that is on the verge of being helplessly overrun, knowing that he is sending some of them to their deaths, and I am given a picture of what it was like for the women at home to receive telegrams from random cab drivers informing them of their husbands' deaths. I know that if I can even in the slightest understand their terrible loss, I can appreciate, and perhaps even remember, not fully, but at least in part, the sacrifices they made.
Memorial Day was established as a day of rememberence for the many men and women who have died in a military conflict while in the service of their country. They have done what only the smallest fraction of Americans can appreciate, that is, bled and died with their country's name and flag stiched on their chests. I arrived in theater in mid-April. Since then, there have been 26 Americans killed in Iraq. Today, I remember them.