When I was a child, Memorial Day remembered a war that seemed far away and long ago. It had no meaning for me, and I always confused it with Veterns Day or D-day or V-day. I never quite understood the juxtaposition of sadness for people killed in parades and loud, flag-waving, high-stepping parades.
Now Memorial Day means a lot, and I think of how many names of the dead in Afghanistan and Iraq I’ve read or heard recited on PBS or on ABC’s This Week. Most are young, but during the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve been startled by how many troops were/are killed in their ‘30s and 40s. I don’t remember that during Vietnam.
During Vietnam, many young men tried to get into the reserves to reduce their chances of deployment to South East Asia. Many men and women today serve in the reserves not just for patriotic reasons but to earn needed extra income. Iraq and Afghanistan have made full use of these reservists. Vietnam was a war fought by draftees. A professional army, with many soldiers signed up for life, fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Young or older war deaths are heartbreaking in ways most American won’t ever know. Certainly not on a scale our parents knew after WW2. But for some reason, I find myself imagining what lives those men and women 35+ left behind: teenage kids, a widow(er) who never worked outside the home, maybe they were saving for college tuition or stepping into a more secure phase of career. The older you are, the more you have to lose and then you don’t.