There are two holidays set aside on the U.S calendar to formally honor those who have worn the uniforms of the various branches of armed service: Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Veterans Day honors generally those who have served. Memorial Day, on the other hand, serves the somber purpose of remembering those who gave their lives in defense of our country. In other words, today is the day for those who aren't around for us to thank them for their service.
Personally, on Memorial Day I think about my grandfather, who spent 30 years in the United States Navy. He spent more than 3 of them at a hellish place called Mukden, a Japanese P.O.W camp in northeast China. Before popping up there he survived the sinking of the minesweeper on which he was stationed during the battle for Corregidor, then the Bataan Death March, at about the time of which the Navy reported to his family back home in Georgia that he was "Missing, Presumed Dead." For several weeks they believed this to be the case and began making their peace with it. Nevertheless he survived long enough to become a prisoner of war, from which status he was liberated by the Russians, made it back to the states, married my grandmother, and shaped the life of his grandson. He didn't talk about his time in captivity often, and never voluntarily.
He did tell me about sneaking out one night to dig up the dead draft horse he'd helped bury the day before so that it could be eaten. About catching grasshoppers as he worked in the fields and eating them on the spot for the protein. About contracting malaria. Twice. And about being lined up by his Japanese captors, who explained that if any of the 10 men in his small hut tried to escape, the rest would be killed. They also explained helpfully that first harsh winter that they only expected 2 out of every 10 prisoners to survive to spring. According to my grandfather, his first thought on hearing this was "I hope the other S.O.B. is friendly."
In short, he was not one of those who lost his life in uniform, but he came damned close on more than one occasion. And it's only because he was too stubborn to give up that I'm even here to write for this weblog. A weblog that is allowed to exist in no small part because of men and women like him who have defended our nation over the years. So, on this day when we can't thank those for whom the day is earmarked, let's use this space to thank those who we can, including family, friends and those among our readers and contributors. Feel free to also use this space to comment on your plans for the day, which in my case includes some good barbecue, good beer, and remembering those like my grandfather who can't be here to enjoy them with me. Until later . . .