Sunday, April 25, 2010

Requiem Aeternam

We started having an annual Vietnam Veterans Day here in Norwich, Connecticut, a decade ago. I've often wondered if the day is somehow linked to the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. I don't think thirty-five years down that road, we, as a country, have ever really made our peace with that war, the way we fought it and the way it ended and most especially with how we treated those lucky enough to come home from it. And again this year we have over a hundred thousand young, and old, men and also women, in southwest Asia, fighting and dying while I sit in front of my big screen and bitch about the two hundred channels of cable I get.

Some have suggested Vietnam demonstrated the danger of trying to conduct a guns AND butter war, that is, we send people off to fight while back on the home front, very little changes. If that's the theory, then I guess it's true, since while we had sappers trying to clear mines from rice paddies in monsoons we also had half a million gather in the mud of Yasgur's Farm. And when all the toking and joking was over, the ages of everybody were practically identical, though I think the guys humping it through weeds were younger, but also older.

I lost a Manhattan prep school classmate in the meat grinder that was Vietnam-and, coincidentally, heard from another classmate yesterday morning to ask if I would be attending the anniversary of our class' 40th graduation in three weeks on a Thursday night. Only in a prep school universe could you hold a reunion on a work night and not realize it. Pass the butter.

From what I've been told by long-time residents of Norwich, the city 'lost' twelve young men in the Vietnamese War. When I'm feeling angry and bitter at how the survivors were treated, I'm tempted to offer that they weren't lost at all, but that's disrespectful to both their memories and to those who came home wounded in places that will never never heal and were left to their own devices as the rest of us raced to forget what we never knew enough about in the first place.

We had a beautiful day yesterday--a sky so deep and blue you got lost looking into it, with enough of a breeze that the large flag at the war memorial on the one side of Chelsea Parade was fully unfurled. I don't remember reading about the service in either of the local papers and didn't really know what to make of the turnout which, I always think should be greater than it is, though, on behalf of Roy O and the other fifty-eight thousand, I always appreciate.

A sunny day provides me the perfect reason to wear my big mirror shades since, by the time the ceremonies conclude, I'm crying. I have spent too much of my life being too cool to cry and fear if I do, I may never stop. I mourned someone I never met, Command Sgt. Maj. John K. Laborde. He will be forever 53 and was from a Norwich of his own, Waterloo, Iowa. He died this past Thursday, April 22, at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of "injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident" as it states in the casualty notification.

Another casualty of another war, and I wonder what we will have learned when we hold the memorial to mark its end and hope, it's more than we know now. "Black and white were the figures that recorded him. Black and white was the newsprint he was mentioned in. Black and white was the question that so bothered him. He never asked-he was taught not to ask, but it was on his lips as they buried him. Rex tremendae majestatis." Welcome home
-bill kenny

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