When I took my dog out for her morning constitutional around 9am, even without any caffeine in my system allowing the neurons to fire, I noticed how quiet it was. The only sound was the omnipresent twittering of birds.
I live in the thick of Los Angeles, which means that, other than maybe the wee small hours during the week, it’s never entirely quiet. Even if there’s no motion in my immediate neighborhood, there’s always the distant hum of cars on the main streets and freeway.
This morning, I noticed the absence of sound. There were no cars, not even the distant hum. I saw no other pedestrians; not one mean little white dog leading its owner on a leash. There was nothing but birds.
I thought maybe I had gone entirely deaf, but I could still hear the birds, so that was out. My imagination took over and I thought perhaps the world had ended. During the few brief hours that I slept, the population had been decimated. It was down to me, my dog, the birds and a few others. I started to panic a little and kicked myself for not buying more ammunition when I had the chance. I kept a watchful eye for zombies. Occam’s razor took over; I caught myself being silly and stopped. There had to be another explanation.
I realized that today is actually Monday, not the Sunday my mind had convinced me it was. I am off of work for Memorial Day and so is almost everyone else.
In the United States, Memorial Day is a national holiday where we remember soldiers lost in battle. It is a somber day, not the usual barbequing holiday most people use it for.
I never served. It never occurred to me and it was never presented as an option. I’m not entirely sure why, but I surmise that it’s probably due to my gender.
All the men in my family, except for my slacker cousin, have served in the military. My Uncle, slacker cousin’s father, was in the Navy. My dad was in the Army, stationed in Germany. They both served during the post-Korean War, pre-Vietnam era. They never saw any action.
Both of their fathers served in World War II. My Uncle’s father was a Marine in the Pacific Theater. My father’s father was really too old to serve in World War II–I think he was in his thirties when he reenlisted–but he fought for Finland against Russia and they needed every man they could get as they were outnumbered 4 to 1.
I never met my Uncle’s father, my grandfather. He died a year before I was born from non-war related causes. My Finnish grandfather never talked about his military experiences, but he never really talked about any experiences. He only talked about how to do things. I don’t remember him ever telling me a story, but he showed me how to plow a field, change spark plugs on his cherry red 1969 Chevy Nova SS (that looked and sounded just like this one) and how to cross-country ski.
None of the men in my family talk about their experiences in the military. They never have. It’s just something they did. It’s expected of them in an unspoken way. It’s just what the men in my family on both sides do. It’s what they have done for generations, going all the way back to the American Civil War (Go Union!) and beyond.
The only army story I’ve ever heard from my dad is why he hates onions. He was forced on KP duty and he had to peel onions for weeks on end. From then on, just the smell of onions makes him a little nauseated. I don’t blame him. I hate onions, too, and have nothing like his excuse.
If I had been born a man, I would have been expected to enlist. It wouldn’t have been something I was pressured to do, but it would have been suggested as an option. And I would have done it, because that’s what we do.
My uncle and father were lucky to have served during relative peace. Their fathers were not so lucky, but they both made it through, slightly worse for wear.
War is an awful thing. It’s the worst thing humans do to each other. Killing each other over land, oil, religious differences, cultural differences–stupid reasons, when it gets down to it. A human life is worth more than a piece of land.
I keep hoping that one day, humanity will grow out of it. We will see that we’re all essentially the same and there are a million different options for peace that don’t involve mass slaughter. So far, we haven’t. We continue to lob bombs at each other; even as I write this, someone has died today in their own war.
Until the time that we see reason, we will need soldiers. Until that day, respect the soldier. These men and women are willing to fight for us. Regardless of whether we ideologically agree with the battles they fight, the fact that they are willing to fight them makes me proud to be, not an American, but a human being. That there are people out there willing to put their lives on the line makes them the best of us.
Thank you for your service.