In 1972, I bought a POW/MIA bracelet that had the name of a missing soldier serving in Vietnam whom I did not know. I was 16 and deeply and profoundly impacted by the war. I knew that the faces of the soldiers on the TV screen and in the newspaper were the faces of my neighbors, my family and my friends. I knew they were doing what they were asked to do, whether they agreed or understood. I didn't know what else to do to let them know I cared, other than buy a bracelet and pray for my soldier every day.
And I did.
Almost simultaneously in 1973, the war was officially declared over and my bracelet broke in half from daily wear. Many Memorial Days have come and gone since then. I lost sight of the time I wore that bracelet. I planned picnics, softball games, weekends with friends, shopping and family get-togethers. Memorial Day became just another holiday.
Then my son decided to volunteer to deploy to Iraq in 2003. Since then, I've had a daily reminder of the tremendous sacrifice of our veterans and families. His personal struggles with trauma and war-related issues are visible to me every day. I know that he, and millions before him, understand what Memorial Day means.
Recently, I emailed the now-retired commander of my son's unit while in Iraq. He lives in New Mexico. In his response, he reminded me that next year will be the 10-year “reunion” of their push into the war zone. My heart sank as I reflected on the length of these current conflicts and of the 1 percent of our nation's population that has fought in them.