At the Memorial Day ceremony I attended, sweat running down my back under the hot sun, the American flag flapping in the wind and a nearby pond smooth as a pane of glass, my thoughts drifted to my daughter’s Opa.
Hershel Holmes, good, gentle, kind, forgiving and steadfast, is one of those men who passes through your life, and later, when you think of goodness, you see his face and a smile slips across your own.
Once, while we were sitting in his Kansas home, I asked if he’d share a bit of his service in Vietnam to help me out with an English class at Kansas State. He sat calmly in his chair in front of television, and I bent forward at the waist on the couch a few feet away.
His story bled tragedy. All Vietnam stories seem to drip agony from the often still open wounds of veterans, a pool of misery at their feet that many of them spend the rest of their lives drowning in.
But what stood out the most was Hershel’s recollection of returning home. Many soldiers participated in and witnessed unspeakable acts in a war they didn’t understand. The one solace was they had fought for their country.
But when they arrived home, their country spat on them as protestors accosted soldiers who had just left a living nightmare.
I wept the day he shared his story. I didn’t understand. Many of the protestors appear highly intelligent on shows documenting that period of history, yet they lashed out at soldiers who had no choice but to obey orders of a government that, in my opinion, consistently sends soldiers to questionable wars and conflicts.
The same shedding of civility and misdirected anger can be seen today, but on a different, less deadly front, in the wake of the Great Recession, as so many struggle in an economy that weighs heavily on their shoulders. A war of ideologies is pitting rich against poor, Republican against Democrat, liberal against conservative and atheist against the faithful.
Reach Editor Stephen Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.