Max McGrath: Memorial Day--A Day of Thanks With Many Memories Print

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June 1, 2011:  This will be my fifth Memorial Day tribute to the village's men and women who serve this country with honor and sacrifice.

I cannot write one more time about how I decorated my youthful bike to ride down Pondfield on the way to the after-march picnic.  It would do a disservice to these brave souls.

The freedoms that we take for granted are a gift to all of us as a result of their service.  I am honored to stand on the sidelines as these Americans march before us.  They don't march to honor themselves, but to honor those who rest in the Elysian Fields scattered over too many consecrated peaceful plots world over.

So it is much more important that we hear from those who served.

My reflections on being a vet during the height of the Vietnam War are varied.  I tried very hard to avoid being drafted, but, thanks to my own stupidity, I missed the college deferment tests.  Uncle Sam started to come after me the summer before my senior year in college.  Luckily, the local draft board in Yonkers felt sorry for me because I didn't claim I was medically unfit to serve.  I only asked to be allowed to play football and finish my senior year.

When granted my request, I tried to get into the Air Force flight school and, while I qualified, the schools were filled up. They kept postponing my entrance, and the Army finally said enough and drafted me in Nov of '67.

I spent two years in Aberdeen, Md., as an Army pay clerk watching thousands of young men being trained before being sent off to war.  During that time, we had many returning Vietnam vets who were assigned to our barracks waiting their discharge.  Most did not want to talk about their war experiences.  However, I have vivid memories of these brave men waking up screaming in the middle of the night with their horrid nightmares.

While I am now proud to say that I am a veteran and know it helped shape me as a young man, the '60s were entirely different from today.  Most of the country was against the war.  The military and vets were not respected as brave heroes as they are today.

The draft put a different spin on the military; most tried to avoid it, and the smart and educated, for the most part, did.  But there were others who volunteered or went into the ROTC.  We lost some great friends like Bogus and Biff who would have gone on to do great things had their lives not been cut short.  Among my classmates, Denny Davis ('63), Army, Vietnam era, and Jim "Sarge" Leary, Army, combat decorated, 7th Air Cavalry, Vietnam, served their country well.  So did John D. Doerr, 1st Lt. Army Quartermaster Corps, Vietnam.

Was it worth it?  This is the underlying question for all conflicts where our own young people are sent to put their lives on the line.  The Memorial Days we experienced back in those days were a respectful mixture of melancholy and nostalgia.  Parades on Pondfield Road and on main streets throughout the country mourned lives lost and victories won ... all swept into a unified theme of having saved our country and the free world.  The question was answered by the fact that we had no choice.

The situation is very different now.  With an all-volunteer Army, the sacrifices are made by a relatively small demographic.  They have been recycled over and over into multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The attendant loss of life, physical and mental injury, and the collateral damage to families and loved ones are confined to a relatively small cohort.

"Never in the field of human conduct was so much owed by so many to so few."  Those words from Winston Churchill in WWII certainly ring true today, although the terrain involved hardly qualifies as "free world" criteria; the question remains, "is it worth it?"

A number of years ago, Patty, our two daughters, and I went to The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia to celebrate our anniversary.  I gave Patty a large bouquet of flowers for our room.  Upon returning to D.C., I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and placed the flowers at the bottom of the "V" of the wall. Although a simple act, it was a powerful moment for me.

To those who served, thank you for my freedoms; I will never be able to repay you for your sacrifices.

Max