Monday, May 25, 2009

On Memorial Day

Today, I have listened to, or read perhaps a half dozen pieces musing on Memorial Day, ranging from those recounting its originsn to others questioning whether the majority of Americans recognize its significance or merely associate it with a long weekend and the unofficial beginning of summer. For me, it evokes two very different events. First, I recall my elder son's combat experience, his wounding and successful recovery. I spend considerable time thinking about the circumstances that put him in harm's way, and would recommend Joker one : a Marine platoon's story of courage, sacrifice, and brotherhood by Donovan Campbell, and Andrew Bacevich's The limits of power : the end of American Exceptionalism as two excellent and thoughtful perspectives on America's current conflicts.

The second person in my thoughts, although I never knew him, is my great grandfather, Albert Benjamin Hayward. He had a much different war time experience, in his case during the American Civil War. Serving in the Union infantry and later artillery, he experienced no major set piece battles, but rather participated in a small, largely forgotten but none the less destructive and harrowing incursion in North Carolina, and later in trench warfare in Virginia. Reading his petitions for an increased pension and descriptions of his desultory experiences after service, his life was bleak, and, though never wounded in combat, he suffered both physical and psychological damage. I am not surprised that my grandmother never spoke of him or alluded to his service. For those who wish to understand men like Albert Benjamin Hayward, those who were scarred and traumatized but whose wounds were either unrecognized or misunderstood, I recommend Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering.

There are of course innumerable other sources, perspectives and experiences to be consulted, but these represent good places to start. My principal hope is that these suggestions will give readers reasons to reflect on Memorial Day, its continued relevance, and the types of sacrifices made in service to this country. These are, in my opinion, estimable goals.

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