Memorial Day in Your Face

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Many
Americans consider Sunday evening television programming their chance
to unwind from their busy weekend and to settle down in preparation
for the new workweek. In the absence of a NFL football game, I suspect
that news magazine shows like 60 Minutes meet the viewing
needs of a large portion of adult Americans. The show's long-running
legacy attests to its success. I caught part of the show last Sunday
May 30, 2004. The Andy Rooney segment dealt with memorializing our
fallen war soldiers.

Initially,
his report gave the false impression that there is a disproportionate
amount of attention directed toward the casualty count from our
current war in Iraq. He rattled off body count numbers from the
Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War that when
combined totaled nearly one million war dead. It appeared that he
was going to conclude that the nearly 1,000 American deaths in the
Iraq War are not so significant by comparison. But just as Rooney
had skillfully drawn us into his trap and we were ready to throw
something at our TV sets, he said that for the next eleven minutes
we would be viewing the faces of the Americans killed in the war
in Iraq. Four photos at a time scrolled across our screens at just
the right pace to get a glimpse of each dead American soldier. The
majority of the photos were the cookie cutter variety standard pose
of the soldiers, men and liberated women, standing in their dress
uniforms by the American flag. But not every soldier was represented
this way. Some were obviously high school pictures and others were
snapshots of the soldier holding one or more of their children.
A few were taken showing the soldier in uniform looking into the
faces of their babies. The father and child or mother and child
shots would have served a photo essay contest well in the category
of contrast, showing the loving, caring parent message contrasted
with the war-ready soldier prepared to fight and make sacrifices
for our country, both captured on one 8×10 glossy.

It
was a long eleven minutes but it was the kind of event all of America
needed to see. We needed to be reminded that every man and woman
who has paid the ultimate price for this senseless war was somebody
who was loved and someone who will not be forgotten. We needed to
see also that the nearly 1000 war dead have supreme significance.
The person who needed to see this memorial most was George W. Bush
because the Iraq War is his war. It was his administration that
ignored intelligence reports that did not support his myopic insistence
that America had to invade Iraq. He is the man who wrongfully tossed
about claims of weapons of mass destruction and claims of ties between
Saddam Hussein and Osama Binladen. He is the master chef who cooked
up his brew of bad intelligence. It is his administration that has
kept an inadequate-sized force of American soldiers struggling with
the impossible role of occupiers in a country that now has plenty
of reason to hate us.

Lets
take the gloves off and say what the major news media outlets are
obviously too afraid to report. Our president put this country into
a war for the purposes of making billions of dollars for his circle
of friends and relatives who profit from the war industry, e.g.,
Halliburton Corporation, Kellogg, Brown and Root Co., and The Carlyle
Group. The economic issues alone will leave our children and their
children paying for years and generations to come. Bush also wants
to control a strategic portion of The Middle East by establishing
military bases in what was Iraq before America annexed it into our
51st state. This action will allow him to keep the peace
in Oil town while maintaining a ready force to support the symbiotic
relationship America fosters with Israel.

All
of this was accomplished by a non-combat president who manipulated
service in The Air National Guard, in spite of his lowest possible
test scores, for the sole purpose of avoiding combat duty in Vietnam.
A president born in New Haven, Connecticut who thinks he is a Texan
just because he can talk with a drawl through that ever-present
smirk. The same smirk that advertises he does not care what anyone
thinks because he will get his way no matter how wrong or how criminal
just as he has done his entire privileged life. A president who
acts without apparent conscience and readily sends other men into
battle to fight and die for his agenda. A president who surrounds
himself with incompetence in the likes of Rumsfeld and Feith and
skullduggery in the likes of his personal Svengali and dirty trickster,
Karl Rove. A president whose sole redeeming act, one that might
save The Republican Party and our country from permanent embarrassment
would be to resign from office.

Hopefully,
the images of the soldiers killed in the Iraq war will stay with
everyone who saw the memorial. Imagery is a powerful tool. We seem
to have a video card in our brains that is capable of drawing up
images from our past and bringing us right back to that point in
time. While assigned to a remote firebase in Vietnam I experienced
an event that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our team
of rangers was on a stand-down, meaning our team was in the firebase
while another team was out on patrol. It was nearing dusk and I
was sitting on top of a bunker trying to catch a cool, never-present
breeze. Helicopters started landing at the staging area near our
bunker. They were unloading body bags and going back out for more.
It was an unusual sight because our KIA's were usually taken directly
to our main divisional headquarters. It was obvious that we had
too many to handle using standard operating procedures and they
needed to get the dead off the battlefield.

The
bodies were placed in a neat row next to the landing area. As subsequent
deliveries were made, the bodies were stacked much like one might
stack firewood. Combat soldiers see many surreal images in their
battle experiences. This image was strange to me because it seemed
that someone ought to have been there to care about these dead Americans.
Missing was the tears these men surely deserved. It occurred to
me that the effect of this collection of dead Americans would not
be felt by their loved ones for some time. I was unsure of the efficiency
of the dreaded telegram the family would receive and unsure of how
long it took for Middle America to receive their boxes of sadness.
I was very sure, however, that inside each bag there were the remains
of a young man likely covered in blood and Mekong Delta mud. I quit
watching the deliveries because I knew it was important not to let
the war get to me. I knew that in a day or two I would be out on
a mission and I needed my head clear of negative thoughts. This
was necessary for my own survival. So I confess to turning my back
to the growing death pile. And I confess that I did not go to the
bodies as if they needed to be guarded or protected. It did not
make sense then, either.

While
the evening wore on, I could not escape the sound of helicopters
touching down and lifting off. I knew that the sound meant more
dead Americans were arriving. At least the war was over for them.
I do not have pretty memories of war. I do not remember anything
about it being pretty. I recall this experience often. Memorial
Day for combat veterans comes about 365 days each year.

I
was struck by President Bush's insistence that photos of war dead
not be released to the public. He even went to the extreme of having
the person responsible for photographing Americans returning in
their coffins fired from her job. And just for good measure, her
husband was fired as well. Now there are two jobs that were lost
due to the war — surely this was not in Bush's economic recovery
plan! The sad irony to this event is the photos gave America an
image of the war dead coming home in respectfully neat, flag-draped
coffins and Bush took this away. The war veterans among us who know
what the contents of those coffins actually look like get comfort
from seeing the respectful treatment. We know that this is as good
as the terror can get. The wimps who invented this war with Iraq
and then hired other men and women to go and sacrifice on their
behalf cannot stomach the face of death.

This
is why I say Bush needs to see the eleven-minute memorial. He needs
to put the images of American war dead in his face and own up to
his actions and accept the culpability for the horror nightmare
he has created.

June
4, 2004

Miles
Woolley [send him mail]
is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
including a set of triplets.

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