Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The VA Is Stealing Memorial Day From the Fallen

The VA has a new tradition. At least, this year is only the second time that the VA has campaigned to ask veterans to wear their medals on Memorial Day to “show your pride.” Memorial day is supposed to be a day for honoring and remembering the fallen, not to celebrate the accomplishments of the living. Nor is it intended as a day to find the most shameless self-promoting grease-head from whom to buy a used car. The pamphlet that is being distributed also says, “Your medals tell a story of service in the cause of freedom that all Americans need to hear.” My medals tell the story of occupation. But I do not need to wear my medals on Memorial day for every American to hear.

Some veterans are proud of their service, and rightly so. I am very proud of the reasons I served, but I would like to take Memorial Day to honor the Marines that fell fighting in Fallujah without celebrating my own accomplishments. In fact, there are many of us who are not particularly proud of the role that we played in the occupation that was the result of what can only be referred to as the war of choice that led to the deaths of our comrades in arms.

I mentioned this to Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs James Peake when I met him recently at the National Press Club.* He said it was his predecessor that initiated the campaign, and he supported it because he thought it was a good way for veterans to identify themselves as a community on this day that should be very important to veterans.

But that's what Veterans Day is for. Memorial Day is supposed to be for the whole country, for all of us as a nation to express our gratitude for, and to remember those who have fallen in the service of this great country. Is Memorial Day more important to the guy who racked up a chest full of medals in peace time, or to the mothers whose sons were killed because of Bush's choice? Sons who may have been buried with little more than a purple heart.

We all have a choice to make this Memorial Day. We can continue the perversion of patriotism that has turned national pride into unquestioning international arrogance, or we can take a day to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made, and honor those who gave their lives in support of this great experiment in democracy known as the United States of America. I will be with my brothers and sisters who live that appreciation every day by continuing to fight for those freedoms we have only by the blessing of our forefathers who fought to keep tyranny at bay. I will be fighting alongside the greatest patriots I have ever known: my fellow members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. None of us will be wearing our medals.**

*After his talk at the National Press Club on May 20th, 2008, James Peake answered a number of questions from cards that had been passed to the front table and were selected by the host. One was about the new GI bill, and it asked if he supported Webb's version or McCain's, and specifically if he was concerned about McCain's criticism that Webb's would be too good and encourage service members to get out of the military. Of course he did not challenge McCain's position, and did not take a firm stand, but I did get to talk to him afterwards. I told him that I had not gotten an ID card in the whole year I had been going to the VA here in DC despite trying to get one at almost every visit. He promised to do something about it and asked for my name. I gave him my card and got a call from someone in his office the same afternoon. We'll see how that goes. I also got a chance to point out to him that by McCain's logic (if you can call it that) for opposing the new GI bill, we should also do away with the entire VA, because it might be encouraging people to leave the military.

**On Memorial Day, May 26th, 2008, a group of IVAW members including myself will be convoying to Jacksonville, NC to get memorial tattoos at Alien Art Tattoo. The shop is owned by April Somdahl, whose brother committed suicide after coming back from his second tour, despite having been diagnosed with PTSD and being undeployable after his first tour. We will be there to honor him, and all of our brothers and sisters who have fallen. I will be getting a field expedient memorial (helmet and rifle) over an outline of Iraq.