A recent episode of the television show "NCIS" brought back memories of my post-Vietnam Army service. I was assigned to burial detail as part of the Honor Guard that fired the 21-gun salutes at dozens of funerals throughout New England. Most of these were for young men who had died violently in Vietnam. Most of the caskets where closed. As we stood to the side, sometimes on a knoll, giving the fallen our nation's final honor, I often trembled with emotion, watching as mothers, sisters and wives wailed. Some threw themselves onto the caskets, unwilling to let go of their loved ones.
Shortly after I was discharged, I returned to school and went on to protest the war as a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. We were a small group, but had experienced the futility of a war waged halfway around the world. As time has passed, those memories have faded, as so many do. But the TV show, depicting a military burial from one of our ongoing wars, brought back memories of so much pain and suffering I had witnessed. It caused me to wonder: What had we learned these past four decades?
When I watch the news or read the paper and see that one more brother, father, sister or mother has died, I can picture their loved ones crying out in pain, knowing another life has been cut short in some unpronounceable village on the other side of the world. And for what? What have we accomplished? What have we learned from these deaths?
This Memorial Day, I ask you all to take a moment to read the news and to imagine those who have been asked to say goodbye to their loved ones. If you feel the same as I do, that the casualties and sorrow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused enough loss to our young people and their families, then consider asking your representatives in Congress, “Why?” Ask them when we, as a nation filled with veterans, can finally live a life that is truly peaceful, without war, and without so many soldiers dying in far reaches of the world. Then maybe we can honor all those who have sacrificed themselves for this nation. I truly hope for a Memorial Day when we can stand with pride and say “no” to war; “thank you” to all who have fallen; and thank you to those who have been left behind, for we are moving toward a peaceful life.
Ross Fenton enlisted in the Army, served 13 months in Vietnam and completed his service at Fort Devens. Upon discharge, he served on the National Committee of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.