Veterans on social media often criticize others’ confusion of Memorial Day with Veterans Day. They argue that Memorial Day is about service members lost, while Veterans Day is one to celebrate/thank all veterans for any service.
Here is my twofold counterpoint: First, all service members lost someone or some piece of themselves “over there.” I support all trying to empathize with that sucky aspect of war. For me, Memorial Day is a day to remember — the good and bad.
Second and significantly, in the spirit of remembering the fallen and in the vein of gratitude, camaraderie and peace (themes the fallen would likely endorse), this holiday is not an invitation to condemn, but one to revere.
Like anyone at the time of joining the military, I lacked a complete understanding that I was saying “goodbye” to an old me and “hello” to a different me. And going to Iraq, though invaluable with respect to life experience, was an even more impactful farewell to a former me. To clarify, this is not a self-victimization essay. Service member or not, we all cross these life thresholds. This is simply one perspective on a very specific experience — that of a combat veteran who lost a part of me and more (and gained an unquantifiable amount, too) and feels more whole when others help me remember what was lost.
For me, Memorial Day is sad. I remember my young lance corporal killed in Al Quaim on my first mission. I was in command at the scene and surveyed the scattered debris, overturned vehicle and the chaos. I changed. I remember our eight troops who drowned outside of Al Asad, April 2006, and how my young Marines looked after returning from the five-day search for bodies. We were all different. I remember my husband’s only female Marine killed by a sniper, and his Seabee blown up in Ar Rutbah a month later. He was never the same.
I think of vehicles I recovered because roadside bombs had decimated their occupants. The sites, smells and emotions still affect me. I honor the 58,000 Vietnam service members and the hundreds of thousands from the World Wars who perished. I recognize suicide victims wishing to avoid facing the late consequences of battle; and I think about those who returned, but with profound guilt/sadness.
We all came back different. We all left pieces of ourselves. War sucks — but remembering helps restore my soul.
I can’t be the voice of the veteran and recommend asking all veterans about their experiences at war; you have to feel each person out. However, this veteran is filled with calm, peace and honor at the questions and discussions.
On Memorial Day, or any day, ask me, if interested, who and what I lost, and unabashedly offer words from the heart (if inclined). Even say “Happy Memorial Day” or “Thank you for serving.” You will prompt me to remember, and that is the point, after all.
Becca Bishop, U.S. Naval Academy 2004, U.S. Marine Corps Officer 2004-2013, is a physician assistant in Boise.