Memorial Day Postscript
As usual, I attended a Memorial Day Parade this year. I watched veterans and active servicemen and women march with town officials, school bands, and children’s sports and service groups. But this year I set my gaze longer on the men and women who passed by in military uniform, thanks to a different sort of Memorial Day parade I had watched two days before my town's annual commemoration. Two days before President Obama began the nation's official commemoration of the Vietnam era.
Poet Michael F Lepore and Lisa L. Siedlarz, editor of the Connecticut River Review, shared their published war poems friends, neighbors, family, and servicemen at a Middletown Connecticut bookstore. Most of us had driven to the event under overcast skies, heavy with the day’s humidity. The heat had settled in the venue too.
As Lepore, a Vietnam War veteran, was introduced I watched a thunderstorm break on the other side of the window. I felt my forehead, soaking wet, as he spoke of his commission as a lieutenant in the US Naval Dental Corps, having served with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC, where he was given independent duty at an outlying facility called The Rifle Range. There he saw Marine recruits, coming from basic training at Parris Island (SC), leave for combat duty in Vietnam. “Young men and women intellectually and emotionally unprepared for the guerilla warfare, so different than WWII,” said the bearded poet.(In two days President Obama would be publically apologizing for the country's mixed feeling towards vets who returned home from Vietnam."You should have been commended for serving your country with valor,” the President would soon admit;in address at the Vietnam Memorial.)
Lepore's American flag lapel pin marked a striking contrast against the deep browns of his shirt and suit jacket under the lights of the humid bookstore room. Yet, he didn’t look as if the heat bothered him as he started to read “Rookie.”
Crouched ankle deep in muck the hard part – waiting, knowing the enemy is out there, but not where or how many.
The poem ends with the young recruit forever changed by “a rippling aria of destruction,” and the view of “his enemy tattered to shreds, a julienne salad.” My attention, drawn away from the room’s temperature, settled onto this veteran’s parting comment that war tallies no winners, “only different degrees of losers.”Continued on the next page