Grasshopper Soup: Every day is Veterans Day
Today is Veterans Day. Every day we live, we live because of the sacrifices of American war veterans. We celebrate Veterans Day to remember those who know better than anyone the horror of war is nothing to celebrate. No day is a day to be thankful for war, yet, because of the courage of those who answered the call to war, when they deeply preferred life without war, we have much to be thankful for. The day to celebrate will come when we can finally say the sacrifice of soldiers is no longer required. I only hope I live to see that day, but I am just a hopeless romantic.
The gut wrenching hideousness of war is something I fortunately never knew. My Uncle Richard fought in World War II. All we knew of his life as a soldier was a poem he wrote called and#8220;Our Christmas Treeand#8221;.
The story we heard was that he wrote it on the battlefield. It was a record of his childhood memories of decorating Christmas trees with his family, the thrill of seeing Santa Claus and opening presents with his family. The poem was so poignant and beautiful everyone wondered how something so good could come from a World War II battlefield.
He ended the poem by expressing his prayer of hope that the Lord would again let him see his mother and dad put up a new Christmas tree. He was well aware he might never make it home.
I will never forget a remark my uncle made to myself and a few other long haired, free spirited, rebel hippies. We had been discussing war as if we all knew what we were talking about. My uncle didn’t think our lives were amounting to much. He raised his voice and said we needed a good war to wake us up and make men out of us. Of course, we thought he was nuts. Hippies did not see war as something good. For Uncle Richard though, war was a serious right of passage that we could only speculate on from the safety of home.
The only other thing I ever heard about war was in eastern Washington. While on vacation from college, I met some friends in a remote farm house. There were some guys who had just returned from Vietnam.
I will never forget how spell bound we all were by the chilling, unbelievable and gruesome stories they told of their experiences as soldiers in the jungles of southeast Asia. It was the most eerie night of my life. They motivated me more than ever to avoid Vietnam. More precisely, they scared me out of my wits.
From the relative comfort and freedom of my spared youth I watched the casualties in Vietnam skyrocket. I saw a huge chunk of my generation wiped out in a war we had no business fighting, while I enjoyed my freedom. I partied like a rock star up and down the West Coast without a care in the world.
As crazy as it sounds, I began to feel a little guilty that I had not shared in the sacrifice of my peers, not because I wanted war, but because I thought, maybe I could have prevented some of the excruciating suffering of my fellow countrymen, and comforted them in their final moments.
I came to feel a profound, tragic kinship with tens of thousands of young men who never came back, or who came back so messed up they couldn’t function. They are no longer my peers. They are much more than that.
By sheer luck, the stories of veterans are the closest I ever came to the ravages of war, and, because of all those names listed on the stark black, reflective Vietnam War Memorial who fought and died in my place, my good fortune remains bitter sweet.
Until the day mankind teaches war no more, and our swords are all made into plowshares, war is likely to touch us all in some way. I hope the next generation is as lucky as I was.
Love requires sacrifice. The sacrifice of war veterans is why we live to love another day.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 27 years.