A Vietnam Vet Looks at Memorial Day

by Joseph Belle-Isle


When I was a kid, there was a fireworks display every Memorial Day.   The adults, many of them immigrants, were CELEBRATING the fact they made it through W.W.II and the Depression. And they proudly flew the flag because they knew it symbolized the fallen soldiers who made their survival possible.

Last night I saw an old photo of one of our soldiers’ cemeteries from W.W.II. There was a sea of perfectly-aligned monuments representing our soldiers who died in battle. Of course Christians got crosses on their stones, Jewish soldiers got Stars-of-David,  Muslim soldiers got symbols of Islam, and I understand, today the VA even has symbols for Wicans and atheists.  The point is, you don’t have to be a Christian to fight and die for America.  And I kind of think that’s what the country is always fighting for: Freedom for EVERYONE.

When I looked at that photo, I saw a lot more than orderly, clean head stones. I “saw” the screaming and the blood and the noise and the bombs and sometimes the lack of food and ammunition.  I “saw” the horror that each man under every symbol felt when he realized that ‘this is it – so maybe I’ll just charge into death for a cause – so someone else will be free’.

This year, when you fire up the grill and set off the fireworks, I hope you’ll remember to bow your head for a second and think about why your kids are playing in the glow of freedom. Maybe they’re even old enough so you can explain it to them.

Today let’s CELEBRATE and enjoy America’s freedom! And please remember the Vets who made it all possible for you – and for the people who forget why we’re celebrating.

9 Responses to “A Vietnam Vet Looks at Memorial Day”

  1. paolo. says:

    Hey Joe! Your words look good up there – and pretty moving. I had to cut some because of space but I wonder if you would tell that story about one of your relatives getting promoted so fast?

  2. Joe Belle-Isle says:

    The second highest rank an Enlisted man can make in the military is E-9, or Sergeant Major in the Army. The next highest, and not very many make it, is E-8, or Master Sgt. E-1 is buck private. In WWII my Uncle Joe went from the Pacific to Africa, and through Italy to the end of the war. He was a Medic and the last face a lot of men saw before heaven. It ate my Uncle up and he did his job well until he became a Master Sgt. in a few short years. A rank others spend 30 years in and never get to. In WWII for him to make E-8 that fast was the rule of diminishing supervision. In a real short time he became the most experienced man available as the guys over him got knocked off. He told us funny stories he rememberred and never told us the rest.
    When the Russians and the Americans free’d the Concentration and extermination camps run by the Nazi’s President Eisenhauer told the reporters to, “Get EVERYTHING on film, so that fifty years from now no Son of a Bitch will be able to say, “It never happenned.”
    Like the present leader of IRAN, or the printers of history books for the Brittish Commonwealth- they have already erased THAT part of history from their history books so as not to upset their Islami citizens. Only 40 years ago we considerred Islam one of the worlds most beautiful religions. We can’t allow the foolishness of a few to to try and change history or cause the works of world peace to be stymied, but I have no answer.

  3. paolo. says:

    Joe, I also put up your post today in the D&C. A reader sent a comment in which I think you’ll be interested:

    Here’s another thought and it is unique to combat veterans. Their intimate knowledge of combat has given them a special perspective of the effects of war. Not only the horrors attendant to the violence but..ironically a deep understanding of the nature of love that I suspect all carry with them to the end of their days. Nowhere on earth has dependence upon others for survival been more a fact than a text book theory than in combat.

    From that grew a special bond now famously called A Band of Brothers but in reality is devotion also sometimes called love for another. As any combat soldier knows in the heat of battle you’re fighting not for flag and country but for survival and protection of your buddy. That is why tears well in the eyes of many veterans not only on Memorial Day but when old memories flood back of lost “best friends” who did not survive combat.

    What does endure for veterans is a special knowledge of real devotion that many non veterans will never fully grasp. It was hard earned and deserves eternal respect in this world torn by so much strife and pettiness.

  4. Joe Belle-Isle says:

    Some of the best writing I’ve ever read about that particular subject were short samples of another taking a stab at writing it down, and then having to stop, or go mad. But I think the person that wrote that has been there. It’s strange but it’s beginning to thunder here, like an artillery salute from the other side of the mountain.

  5. Bill says:

    When I was a boy, the Memorial Day parade would feature hundreds of vets from WW II. Not any more. There was only a handful of really old looking guys today. It was sad to see them all gone.

    Also, because they had lost so many friends and family, my father’s generation would start off the day at a somber memorial service and/or ceremony after the parade, and then came the celebrating. Until they had gotten enough liquor inside them and started remembering. Then they would grow quiet and just stare off into space and sometimes get teary-eyed. Hangover city the next day.

    Nice piece, Joe.

  6. Brenda says:

    Well done Joe!!! Happy Memorial Day!!! Its been a while since I’ve visited Franco’s blog, but I thought about you today and decided to visit. My husband and two youngest children had the honor of participating in the parade today along with a recent Honor Flight participant and a Vietnam Veteran. I enjoyed your stories tonight Joe. Thank you.

  7. Brenda says:

    Bill, you are right. Like so many WWII vets, my uncle and grandfather have passed away. I am thankful for the stories they told me. Even though I am sure they sugar coated them, there wasn’t any hiding the emotion they experienced at the memories. They might be gone Bill, but it is up to all of us to make sure they are NEVER forgotten.

  8. Joe Belle-Isle says:

    Thanks Frank for goving me a shot a writing. But to leave on a humorous note-as I saw it- The guy that lived upstairs from me in the early 70’s was married to a pretty girl, intelligent, and told me he had been a lieutenant in the Army but we rarely talked. Come Christmas 12 MP’s came to his door and carried him off for dessertion. I yelledat him as he flew by me, “ANGEL!! I thought you said you had been a Lt. and got discharged??”
    He said, “NO! I told you I WAS a lieutenant. I just quit when I saw where they were sending me.”

  9. paolo. says:

    It was a good experience for my readers and me, Joe. They say for every reader that writes, there’s probably 100 who read it but didn’t comment. Between this blog and the D&C, you’ve touched a lot of people. Thanks.

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