It is Memorial Day, 2008, a day dedicated to citizens who have fallen in battle for the United States. Most of us alive now probably don’t know anyone who served or fell in battle. We may have brothers, dads, granddads, uncles, or father-in-laws who we should remember, even if we never met them.
It is a three-day weekend that will be celebrated with early morning parades, twenty-one gun salutes, and flag waving, but most of us will not attend those events. We will sleep late. For most of us, it is a much-needed day off, a precursor to the season of vacations. Most of us will barbeque, drink beer, picnic, shop, or sleep, but probably only a small percent will remember. I am no different.
However, The most disturbing thing I have seen so far about Memorial Day is neither over-ambitious flag waving nor flag burning protests. Political expression and tolerance of views that are not our own or that we may strongly disagree is what makes our democracy and country strong. Wrong, stupid, bad, even immoral ideas tend to reveal themselves in an open society, and are easily swept into the dustbin of history.
“Memorial Day Clearance Sale, 3 Days only, Up To 50% Off.” WTF is a memorial clearance? Am I supposed to forget 50% of the brave men and woman who gave their lives (right or wrong) for freedom? Am I supposed to fill that memory with another plastic widget, doodad, thingamajig: a 13th pair of jeans or 10th pair of white walking shoes? When is enough stuff enough? I know our economy depends on it, but maybe the problem is that the economy is the only priority. We’ve traded comfort for enrichment, security for freedom, and fame for knowledge.
We know our habits are changing the biosphere, but instead of changing our ways, we would rather believe in science or a miracle to solve it. Everyday in our schools, homogenous cliques beat the emotional shit out of our children because they are different. Preachers, ministers, priests teach of them or us. Torture is relative to the needs of the moment. Anyone can be kidnapped to Guantanamo and not even know why or have access to due process or even notify family.
Lucky for us, in a free and open society, the pendulum swings very fast. We can change it and we have the power to choose to do so. It is not about the car you drive or your zip code; it is not about winning the lottery or enforcing morals; it’s not about dying with the most toys, or living the longest with fewest wrinkles. No, it is about accepting yourself with all of your flaws and doing better; it’s about treating others, as you want to be treated; it’s about feeding your wonderment and living your life to the fullest.
On this Memorial Day, I know one person who I regret having never met, Major Jack C. Plumb. He is E’s father. He was killed in South Vietnam, at Ouang Ngai Province. Major Plumb was a Forward Air Controller for the 20th Air Support Tactical at Da Nang; he flew targeting and rescue missions, braving difficult weather and hostile enemy, while supporting the Americal Division. His engine failed and he was killed in a crash. His name is located at 45W, 028, on the Vietnam Memorial.
I have seen his picture in photo albums, and from tales of his survivors, a wife and three children, I know he was tough, but fair. I know his favorite book was Catch-22, Joseph Heller; and his favorite film was Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. E says he had a dry, sharp rapier wit, and he didn’t suffer fools well.
If I had met and got to know him, I think my life would have been richer. I know he loved Carling Black Label beer, so this Memorial Day, I am hoisting one, two, three, or more in his honor.
Thanks Jack, thank you for your daughter, thank you for your legacy, and thank you for your sacrifice. This CBL is for you.