Much to remember on Memorial Day
In “The Long Walk,” a brilliant chronicle of war and its aftermath, the narrator returns home from the Middle East, fresh from three tours of duty. He starts jogging, not for exercise, but to outrun his past, to leave it where it belongs — in the smoldering ashes of his memory. Good luck.
The past is too dogged, too persistent. There is no escaping it, and the narrator discovers what many of his fellow veterans discover — that the home front represents a new battlefield. The enemy? PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The Long Walk” is a memoir, but its profound explorations make it read like fiction. Our fighting men and women brave more than we can imagine, which is one of the many reasons why we value them, and why we should mark today — Memorial Day — with both gratitude and compassion.
Our service members deserve both.
Whatever their duties — fighting, training, undergoing humanitarian efforts throughout the world — our service members discharge them for us. And we are the better for it. America would not be America without them — a country built on freedom, a bedrock as solid as the spirit of these brave servicemembers.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” President John F. Kennedy said.
Those are not just words. They are the principles that have guided us since our birth as a nation in 1776. Almost 250 years of honor, courage and loyalty — traits that preserve the freedom we enjoy today.
Every year, we note the symbol of Memorial Day — the gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. And for this generation, as for generations past, the toll is heartbreaking — almost 7,000 U.S. soldiers have died since 9/11, according to the Department of Defense, while almost 45,000 have been wounded.
We must remember the fallen and their families. Let us also remember their comrades — our veterans. We must do more than we have. Twenty percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD and/or depression, according to a Rand Corporation study. It is a cruel irony that the men and women who fight for us return to a government that will not fight hard enough for them, with scandal after scandal rocking the Veterans Administration — allegations of misconduct that include retaliation against whistle-blowing employees who reported abuses.
America is better than that. We must support the men and women who support us. Show that support at the polls, selecting candidates who vow to right the wrongs that afflict our veterans, and if those candidates win, hold them accountable.
Every horror a veteran faces, every case of PTSD, is a horror many of us will never know. We owe our freedom to these brave men and women. Bless them. Help them.