Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Decoration Day, 2024

Yesterday, as I often do this time of year, I drove down to the southeast, to the big national cemetery up on Mt. Scott  in the Lents neighborhood to spend some time with my Army brothers.

Willamette National Cemetery was its usual peaceful, pretty self. Shining in the morning sun, colorful with rank upon rank of little flags...

(which made me think, as it always does, of the unlucky bastards detailed to work their way along the rows of markers shoving little flag-sticks into the lawn. Given the lack of available privates, tho? Probably contract workers. Shame, that's kind of a perfect distillation of Army tradition; detailed, painstaking, back-achingly wearying, and boring all at the same time)

...which the Coasties had, again, infiltrated with their special Coast Guard flag-planting strike force. What IS it with those guys? Overcompensation? I mean, I like the USCG; they are the only uniformed service with jobs that 1) they get to do 24/7, and 2) don't have to include killing people and breaking shit. They're builders, not destroyers. Isn't that good enough for government work? Why this obsessive need to let everyone who visits, on this one day we set aside to ostensibly remember our dead, those of which wore the Coast Guard blue by being the only dead people with their own little service flags?

I still don't get it.

I drove through the glossy lawns down to the back side of the hill, looking for plots X, Y, and Z, where most of the dead of my generation are buried.

I didn't find them.

Well, there was this one poor joker, an E-Deuce who'd done his time in one of the Gulf Wars and made it home sound only to go toes-up at 44. 

Damn, dude. Sorry.

But as always my contemporaries were lost amid the huge crowd of the Greatest Generation. The WW2 and, to a lesser extent, Korean War people. And, I noticed, many more of the Vietnam era folks who are now running out of time. 

But from the Little Wars of the Oughts and Teens? Hardly anyone, and (because of the crowds on this day, the only day the park sees crowds...) I got caught in the one-way traffic routing that spit me out on the far side, irked and with my can of Pfriem IPA - shit, guys, I tried! And brought the good stuff this time! - unshared.

So fuck it. I drove home.

I putzed around the house, splitting time between chores and helping my soon-to-be-ex with the divorce paperwork (and if you think that military paperwork is grueling, get divorced; it's ridiculous), until finally I couldn't stand it and threw on my gym shoes and went to PDXStrength for the annual Murph.

This is apparently huge for the CrossFit crowd and is named for a Navy SEAL officer who was KIA in one of the many "how the fuck did you even think this would work..?" SEAL operations in Southwest Asia.

But despite the CrossFit/SEAL connections that would normally give iconoclastic Army me the giggy, it's a Memorial Day thing that involves effort, so I shoved a 35-pound plate in my old rucksack and got stuck in.

(The gist of this Murph thing is that it starts with an aerobic event (a mile run, usually) followed by strength events (pullups, pushups, squats) closed out with another mile run.

Well, my replacement parts rule out running, so I rucked a half-mile and quickly recalled how much I hated humping that thing when I had to do it for a living. Christ it sucks, hammering your back and legs no matter how hard you try and glide-step instead of jogging.

And, since pullups aren't my friend (and they're more of a sailor and marine thing, anyway), I substituted situps, and knocked out my sets of ten until I reached my age in reps; 66 pushups and situps are kind of my limit these days, anyway, then rucked up again and set off into Cathedral Park.

Where I couldn't help thinking that this young woman was enjoying her holiday much more than I was:

But that's the weird thing about this "holiday"; it's not supposed to be about fun. 

It's supposed to be a reflective, sorrowful remembrance of people who died. Many of them in great suffering, and all of them because of choices We the People made, or refused to make.

But We the People kinda suck at reflective. And sorrow. So Memorial Day is what it is; barbecues, mattress sales, lolling in the grass on a sunny summer day.

Okay, then.

Finally I returned to the gym. Shook some hands, ate a deviled egg (or four. Or six; fuck, they we fine), yarded the plate out of the damned ruck, and returned home to cook dinner.

In all? It was yet another in the string of semi-dissatisfying Memorial Days I've been having. 

My connection with my service days is waning, my irritation with my nation increasing. Now that, as the old jingle runs, the "...danger is passed and all things righted/God is forgotten and the soldier slighted" it seems even more futile to pretend to mourn or revere the war dead of our recent wars.

There are so few; no wonder the silent crowd of the wars of midcentury shoves them into silence.

I can't help but worry that my generation of soldiers will always be forgotten. I will keep them in my heart, but I'm old and soon enough will join them, perhaps up on that green and shining hill, my last home festooned with tiny flags every last weekend in May, to remembrance wars and deaths my country would just as soon forget.


I promise. I will remember.

Here's to us.
Who's like us?
Damn few
And they're all dead.

As always today: this.

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