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Today’s Memorial Day essay is, with only a few minor changes, a repeat of an earlier post that I first published on "Map and Counters" in 2009. I keep bringing it back each year because it conveys, at least insofar as my meager gifts allow, the essence of my thinking on the topic of Memorial Day; moreover, although I do occassionally revisit this topic, I have thus far found nothing in its core message that I would change. At the time I first wrote this essay, I had only recently experienced something of a personal epiphany: one that had imbued me with a powerful urge to honor those who, for one reason or another, are all too often passed over by their countrymen in favor either of better-known military leaders or more famous heroes. Nothing that has happened since I first wrote this post has done anything to change my mind. On the contrary, as time has gone by, I have become more and more convinced that Memorial Day shouldn’t mainly be about celebrating those who are or were famous, whether gallant heroes or successful generals — their memories will almost always be preserved somewhere, if only in a fading copy of an old history book; instead, I believe that what this day should really be about is honoring the countless ordinary men and women who — although largely uncommemorated except by cemetery headstones — have served in our armed forces over the centuries and who, when duty required it, willingly relinquished the most precious thing that they possessed: their own lives. Thus, just as it has done in years past, this Memorial Day essay honors (however modestly) two U.S. Marines who fell as a result of enemy action a long time ago in Vietnam; just as importantly, however, it is also a salute to all of those who, through the ages, have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country: from the first violent birth pangs of the new American Republic, to the faraway battlefields of the present day. May their sacrifices never be forgotten.
In Memory of Marine LCpl. Clement Johnston, Jr., killed in action 4/28/66 in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of South Vietnam
When we honor the memory of those who have, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, already “given the last full measure of their devotion,” let us also take a moment to think about all of those men and women who serve overseas as a bulwark against the medieval fanatics that — in spite of the fact that their original leaders are now mainly dead or in captivity — still plot attacks against the American homeland from half a world away.
A Few Additional Thoughts on This, the First “Summer” Holiday of the Year
Today is “Memorial” Day. It is supposed to be a day of remembrance. And I like to think that there was a time, not that long ago, when most ordinary Americans understood and honored this day and its original purpose. Now, for many, if not the majority of my fellow citizens, I fear that Memorial Day has become little more than an excuse for a three-day holiday weekend, or a backyard barbeque, or even for a “blow-out” electronics sale. I hate to admit it, but I understand how this change could happen: memories are fragile things, and they fade far too quickly. I was unexpectedly reminded of this sad truth, myself, only a few years ago.
During the first week of April a little over three years ago, my wife talked me into visiting the touring reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial: The "Wall". She, herself, had already visited the real monument in Washington, DC, but she knew that — despite the fact that I had served two and a half years in Vietnam — I had not; so she thought that it might be nice for us to finally visit the touring “Wall” display together. I agreed to make the trip, but under protest: I have to admit that I have always had mixed feelings about “war” memorials. Unlike a military cemetery or the site of a former battlefield — I still get a lump in my throat when I see pictures of Arlington or of one of the American cemeteries at Normandy or Lorraine, in France — most of these types of monuments have always struck me as being more like “guilty” afterthoughts than anything else. Too often the statues or marble structures that are erected, usually long after the events that they commemorate, actually seem to say more about their well-intentioned builders than they do about those being memorialized. Nonetheless, because I still value my wife’s good opinion of me, I finally agreed to make the trip; so, on a sunny, windy Saturday morning in 2009, the two of us drove all the way out to Buckeye, Arizona, to pay a visit to the touring facsimile of the “Wall”.
In the end, I and the wonderful, helpful people who volunteer with the monument tour all tried our best to identify at least a couple of individuals from a number of young men that I had known who had been killed in various operations from “Davy Crockett” to the “Tet” Offensive. Guilt is a powerful rebuke, and it had suddenly become strangely important to me that I at least make a serious effort to do this. Thus, melancholy though my and my helpers' task may, looking back, now appear to an outsider, it nonetheless imbued my spur-of-the-moment project and its outcome with an emotional intensity that I have rarely felt before or since. And, more importantly, my and the "Wall" volunteers' labors were not completely fruitless.
The two young marines memorialized at the start of this essay — one forever 18 and the other 22, who died so many years ago in Vietnam — may or may not be the men I knew when I was a young soldier, I will never be truly sure. But what I do know is that even if they are not, they still deserve to be honored on Memorial Day by someone, and I am proud for that someone to be me. It took a long time for me, personally, but having finally visited the “Wall,” I also now know something else: I realize, at last, that if we who served with those whose names are inscribed on that gleaming black marble do not make the conscious (and sometimes painful) effort to remember those who fell in Vietnam so long ago, then who among us will?
May you, my readers, and those you care about, all have an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day holiday. And may those who wear our country’s uniform and who daily go into harm’s way, in dangerous, far-off places, also have a safe Memorial Day!
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JUST A REMINDER
It doesn't seem possible, but John Kranz and company's 2012 Consimworld Expo/Monstergame.Con XII will begin only one short month from today. On June 25th, gamers from all over the world will again congregate at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel in (very) sunny Tempe, Arizona, for an action-packed week (25 June to 1 July, 2012) of both organized and "open" gaming, playtest sessions, designer seminars, new game launches, and other hobby-related special events. In short, Expo 2012 promises to be a great opportunity, as it has in years past, for both new gamers and old to gather together in a celebration of the hobby of wargaming.
Speaking for myself, I am happy to report that this year's convention will be very different from last year's. In 2011, a combination of poor health and transportation problems limited my convention participation to that mainly of a "neutral" observer; in contrast, this year, I fully expect to be busy playing games and blogging at the Tempe Mission Palms from the first day of the Consimworld Expo to the last.
For those readers who continue to "sit on the fence", there is still plenty of time to make arrangements to attend this year's Expo; and for those of my readers who are planning to make the trek to Tempe this June, I invite you to look me up when you get to the convention site. Who knows, if your gaming interests include the Avalon Hill and SPI classics, we may even find the time to play a game or two.
To find out more about CSW Expo 2012/MonsterGame.Con XII, or to register online for this year’s convention, visit the website: http://expo.consimworld.com/
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The creative force behind the American version of Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis, first began lobbying in favor of declaring a national holiday to honor mothers in 1908. In 1914, her efforts finally met with success; sadly, by 1920, she had become disillusioned with the rapidly burgeoning commercialization of Mother's Day, and actually reversed course, arguing for her own holiday's repeal. Needless-to-say, in this second effort, she was disappointed; and that, in my view, is probably not a bad thing.
A Heartfelt Salute to America’s Military Mothers, Past, Present and FutureWhen it comes to the origins and background of this peculiarly wide-spread, if oddly ill-defined, holiday, I really have little to say that hasn't already been said by others many times before. Nonetheless, the nearness of this year's Mothers' Day here in the United States — besides evoking, for many of us, people and times long past — does provide me with the opportunity to post one of my all-time favorite Norman Rockwell illustrations. Call me sentimental, but I have a special fondness for this simple, if somewhat old-fashioned image, because it reminds me of my own experience when I came home, after my first year in Vietnam, on a 30-day special leave. I can still remember, almost like it was yesterday, a much younger version of me, still in my "dress greens" (having flown in earlier that evening) sitting, for hours, at the kitchen table with my mother. There the two of us sat — long after the rest of the family had gone to bed — drinking cup after cup of coffee and talking quietly about the trivial, commonplace occurrences that had colored the lives of my friends and family during the year that I had been deployed half-way around the world. To this day, that long, utterly inconsequential chat still remains one of my favorite memories of my mother.
Being both impossibly young and impossibly ignorant, it didn’t occur to me when I was home on leave, that mine was actually my mother’s third war; that she had met and married my father — a Navy corpsman who served in the Pacific — during World War II, and that, with two small children to tend to, she had seen him recalled to active duty a few years later during the Korean War. Looking back, I cannot remember a single instance in which my mother ever complained about the hardships brought about by my father’s military service; nor, in my own case, can I recall a single word of recrimination from her when she learned that I would be going back to Southeast Asia for another tour at the end of my leave. Only many years later, after my mother had passed away, did I learn from my sister about the constant worry and, even more painful to me now, the dread with which my mother greeted every unfamiliar car that pulled into our driveway, or every unexpected knock on the front door during the whole of the time that I was overseas.
Nowadays, of course, only a small number of our fellow citizens actually serve in the armed forces and, for that reason, it is easy for most of us to put out of our minds the wives and mothers that those in uniform leave behind when they go into harm’s way. On this Mother's Day, however, I enjoin all of my readers to remember, along with their own mothers, those others who day-by-day wait stoically for their husbands and sons, and now their daughters, to come safely home. And while other Americans may seldom think of it that way, theirs, quite possibly, is the hardest wartime job of all.
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