By James E. Leiker
Remembering can be curse when you've spent years trying to forget. It's even worse when you get mad at yourself for not being able to remember. It's strange that you forget so many things you want to remember and remember so much that you really want to forget.
I spent 11 months, 28 days in sunny Southeast Asia. I came back physically whole. "No members missing" tag on this Marine. By the Grace of God, good training, and just plain pure dumb luck, I suffered no more than a slight hearing loss, a concussion or two, and 25 years of mixed-blessing memories.
I've been a good husband to my wife, a lousy father to my two daughters, a mediocre son to my mother, and a reasonably successful employee to five employers over the years. With these results, I consider myself as doing better than the average bear when compared to many of my fellow veterans. The Grace of God and luck still abound.
Memorial Day is not a day for self-evaluation or selfish thoughts. So I turn my remembrances to other people, places, and things.
I remember heat. Heat that kept you from getting a full breath for weeks. Heat that sapped your strength so that you were beyond exhaustion after a minor exertion. Heat that made you tired and kept you from sleeping. Heat that made you sweat buckets. Heat that made you freezing cold at 70 degrees.
I remember lush green mountains that always seemed to go up not down. I remember red earth that was sticky enough to glue a deuce and a half in place, slippery enough to make it impossible to stand on, and dusty enough to choke you into a coughing fit like a bad cigar.
I remember rice paddies. They could get you killed or save your life. Dikes stop bullets but can leave you exposed if you're dumb enough to walk on them. The water smelled of feces but was better than not drinking at all.
I remember rain. Rain that broke the intolerable heat then never stopped. Rain that was as gentle as silk or as stinging as a nest of bees. Rain that let you get a good clean shower and rotted your feet 'til they bled.
I remember the sun. The sun that created the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I've ever seen in my life. The sun that you couldn't look at...if you ever wanted to see again. The sun that you could feel without touching it.
I remember a moon that shone so bright you could read a map by it. I remember moonlight dancing on foliage that made you see nothing one minute and imagine a host of slinking VC the next.
I'll never forget the colors of an explosion close at hand. The white center bleeding out to a yellow ring surrounded by black rolling smoke was beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
I remember the orange and green tracers dancing lazily through the night, while I prayed that none came to roost on me.
But above all this, I remember people. Faces, personalities, and human events still crowd my days and nights with pleasure and pain. I can remember entire conversations and events in explicit detail. I cannot remember the names of more than a few, and I don't know why. Shouldn't this be the other way around?
I remember the parting face of the Huey jock, who took an RPG in the nose 100 yards after he lifted off from leaving me in a clearing. I remember every detail of the guy who hung himself 2 weeks before he was going back to the world. I remember the guitar songs taught to me by the kid from Boston, who drove a jeep over a 105 shell buried on a dirt road and tripped the trap. I remember the quiet calm of the guy who told me he was sorry and assured me that I would be O.K. after he stepped on a mortar-round booby trap. All this while I held what was left of him in my arms, and we filled him with enough morphine to kill a horse because he was cut in half below the waist; and we knew he wouldn't survive the slick ride back to DaNang.
Of the hundreds I knew, I kick myself for remembering so few. Especially on this Memorial Day when I should be able to remember each and every one. They are the ones who paid for this Memorial Day. This is their day. I will not spoil it by forgetting even one of their number.
God help me, I will remember. From this day forth I will carry their memory and spirit with me as a living memorial to their sacrifice and dedication to God, country, duty, and honor. They shall not pass gently into the night as long as I have breath in my body to shout to the world...
REMEMBER, REMEMBER...For God's sake Remember.