11 Nov In Honor of Our Soldiers
In the United States we celebrate our veterans, and the patriotism, the courage, and the sacrifice that they embody in service to the country. It is especially important to remember and honor those who gave their life in such service.
Today, Veteran’s Day, I want to share with you a scene from the documentary film Death Makes Life Possible, in which I interview veterans about their experience of life and loss. I have also included a sneak-peek excerpt from my upcoming book of the same name. In this excerpt veteran’s speak about their experience in war and how these experiences shaped their perspective on death, dying, and how we can honor those who have passed on.
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In 2012, I visited the Cypress Hill Memorial Park in Petaluma, California, for the Memorial Day observances. There, I talked to many war veterans, primarily from the Vietnam War. They carried their scars and hidden wounds. From them, I heard stories of loss, guilt, ghosts, and their reasons for remembering their fallen comrades on this emotional day.
Keeping people alive in our memories is a powerful form of expression. This was confirmed by one Vietnam veteran who participated in the Memorial Day event.
This is for the ones that gave all. That’s what this whole day is about. It’s a remembrance and honoring. I think the biggest thing is just to remember. We all served, but we are the ones that got to come home. And a lot of people that are buried here didn’t come home.
I think it’s very, very important that we all remember the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice going back to all the wars—World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq. People are still dying today, and we need to let them know that we’re not going to forget.
With cameras rolling for the recording of our film, Death Makes Life Possible, another veteran told me what it means to him to share in our collective loss and how that loss raises personal questions.
Today is a remembrance. You think about the big question. Why did we come back and the others didn’t? I was downed twice. You wonder why you make it and maybe the pilot didn’t.
Fear around death is different for every person. Some may not even think about fear when it comes down to grabbing your weapon and defending yourself. You do it to survive. Many times when you’d see your friends get hit that are sitting beside you. I’ve had several pilots come out from under me and the fear hits afterward. That’s when you feel it.
Breese Baker was trained as a medic when she joined the military in 1966 and headed for Vietnam.Part of her training involved maintaining an objective stance toward her patients as they faced death. Having emotions about death is not part of military indoctrination, she recalled.
It’s a job, and that’s all they want you to do. But what happens is that, when you have people, especially the men who are coming in off the field and have been mortally wounded and not expected to live, your own personal feelings start coming in, and you start caring. There isn’t any other way. For me, I just had to stop and just know that in that moment I had to do this. It really brings a tear to your eye.
Doing this and coming here, I just have a sense that there is someone that lingers here. I’ve always had the feeling that I can walk into a place and know that there is somebody there. It’s like the hairs come up, and you just kind of get that feeling like, yeah, there is somebody here.
Many of the other veterans expressed an ongoing connection to those who died in battle during their tenure in Vietnam. Being part of a group is very important for military veterans. One veteran told me that even in death, the departed soldiers are aware of the honoring that was taking place amid the grave markers.
There’s a special camaraderie with veterans. When you’re in the service, they’re your closest people. When you rely on somebody with your life, and they’re relying on you for their life, there’s no closer bond that you can have. You may never ever see them again after your service is over, but it always stays.
Even after death I don’t think you lose that camaraderie. You’re always a part of that fraternity of being a person in the military. You never lose it. I’ve been out of the military for almost forty years, and you still never lose that. You just don’t. It’s part of you. It becomes part of you.
That sense of belonging may be even more important after death. I think all the veterans here know. They’ve all known about Memorial Day and Veterans Day before they’ve gone, and they know that it means so much to remember. So I think they know. I think they know that we’re thinking about them, and that every year, they know that those American flags are on their graves.
They’re very proud. They’re proud in their grave. They gave their life for their country, and they’re proud of it. They will always be proud of what they’ve done. I think it goes on through eternity.