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Honoring those who didn’t make it home — Lift the Fog of Prosperity and Tune in for a Moment: My Sunday Column

One of my earliest memories dates to my fourth birthday, when it seemed like the whole world was celebrating with me.

The whole world was indeed celebrating, but it had nothing to do with me. It was May 7, 1945, the day the Germans unconditionally surrendered, the day before victory in Europe became official. From the Soviet Union to America, vast throngs of people took to the streets to rejoice in that moment of triumph.

Three months later, the Japanese surrendered, setting off more celebrations. Soon, my two uncles came home from war and like all the other GIs, they were treated as conquering heroes.

In 1947, the Cold War began and America has been at war virtually non-stop ever since: in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Libya, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Sudan, Kosovo and now the War on Terror that has engulfed Iraq, Afghanistan,  Pakistan, Yemen and parts of Africa.

War, rumors of war, the scars of war — so many missions accomplished, but without the great victories that ignite public passions. Not one of these wars has seen the men and women who returned home from war, or those who didn’t, honored by a massive outpouring of emotion and public gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

That’s what Memorial Day is supposed to be about, how it came to be after the Civil War, growing out of the emotional parades and community events in small-town America, both North and South.

There’s still some parades like the one in Canoga Park every year, and services at McCambridge Park War Memorial in Burbank, the Vietnam War Memorial in Montrose, the Veterans Memorial in Glendale and elsewhere in the area and around the country on Monday.

But we all know the holiday is about the start of summer fun, about barbecues and beer, fiestas and fairs, the Greek Festival, the Jazz and Reggae Festival, the Wine Fest and Wet Pool Party in downtown Los Angeles.

It’s time to party, perhaps at best with a passing moment or two to think about all those who died doing their duty for their country and those who fought and came home with wounds of their bodies and psyches, what used to be called “shell shock,” or now, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Nothing can heal those scars as much as the glory of great victory in combat, something that has eluded us for so long as we played policeman to the world in costly and drawn-out wars in Korea and Vietnam, or with the end in sight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the most part, we have tuned out. It is all so remote, so far from our consciousness. The odd returning veteran who goes berserk gets far more visibility than all the hundreds of thousands of men and women who put themselves in harm’s way and find few cheers when they come home — not even a job, in so many cases.

There are no hurrahs when Johnny or Joan come marching home.

I did my time during the Vietnam War, spending two long freezing winters in the far north of Alaska, so I only know about combat from those who will talk about what it was like to have faced the enemy and fought for their lives and the lives of their comrades.

At the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8310 on West Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank one afternoon last week, I chatted with a couple of guys who are the survivors of the fighting in Vietnam, men who found no heroes’ welcome after that unpopular and politicized war.

One would just have soon not talk about being in the heart of the fighting so long ago. The other recalled being wounded in a firefight with North Vietnamese soldiers, who stood passively within shooting range as two of his comrades in arms carried him to safety.

He’s visited Vietnam — loves the people and the countryside, and plans to go back for a longer stay one of these days.

He found healing by going back to where he had been wounded and seeing that the past is gone.

Maybe in the fog of the peace and prosperity most of us enjoy — that so many of us take for granted — we should take a moment to honor those who fought in the name and service of our country so that those who did not come home did not die in vain.

(This article was published Sunday in the Glendale News-Press and other LA Times community newspapers)

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7 Responses to Honoring those who didn’t make it home — Lift the Fog of Prosperity and Tune in for a Moment: My Sunday Column

  1. The Glendale News-Press does not have your mug shot of GI Ron.

  2. Ricardo says:

    Thank You Ron for remembering and honoring our Veterans. I think its a damn shame the City doesn’t do anything big for our Veterans like they do for foreigners. They name days for Foreigners, have big parties and celebrations for Foreigners but I haven’t seen not one big event for our Veterans in the City of Los Angeles which has many Veterans. I think its because the gangster Mayor wouldn’t know what true courage is and fighting for America nor any of the City Council members accept Rosendahl who is a Veteran but should be ashamed nothing has been done that I’ve seen so far. A couple of small groups gathering on corners is all I’ve heard of happening. SHAMEFUL

  3. Teddy says:

    Thank you, Ron. I was at my desk in 1941 when FDR came on the radio (6:00 PM Chicago time) and announced the day of infamy. Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.
    Many lost their lives in this world during that time, in Europe, Japan and from our nation as well.

    Good vs evil.
    Will it never end?

  4. Valley Lady says:

    When I was young (long ago) my family went to (then) Czechoslovakia. My relatives were priests-some shot by the communists and one (a priest and an artist) served seven years in Siberia. Life for them was not easy. They had to sneak Catholic mass in basements. Communion hosts were said to be doused with Cholera (or some disease), so they made their own hosts. 12 people lived in a two bedroom apartment. I remember how tattered their dish rags were–rags that we would have replaced months earlier. I noticed that our years of gifts sent never arrived–no nursery school finger paintings, no art supplies, no music no letters proclaiming our love for them. The packages never reached them.

    One day, during our visit, I was followed by a man. This went on well into the evening.

    During our travels, my sisters and I often switched rooms since each room was different. I thought, being that this man followed me to my room, what better night than that night to suggest we do a room switch. So we did.

    That night, when in bed, the man entered “my” room (my sis and I look alike in the dark). The man went to the window and smoked his pipe for a few minutes. He looked over to my sister–went and sat on the bed–took her hand–stroked her forehead–said a few sentences in Slovak–kissed her on the forehead and left. My sister, in a panic, ran to my parents’ room. Repeating the words he spoke–the translation was as follows: I have watched you all day. You walk free. You talk free. Every move you make is free. Cherish your freedom.

  5. Wayne from Corruptopia (aka L.A. City) says:

    I would like to take a moment to honor the Greatest of our fallen military Heroes:
    LT. COL. HENRY T. BLAKE, 4077th MASH (died in a helicopter crash en route to Tokyo from the Korean front line.)
    and the Greatest: GENERAL RONALD REAGAN!
    Whether it be making Fried Chicken, playing a role on T.V. or Being President, these
    great men made America great (until the Liberal Dumbo-crats voted us out of a free Country.)
    RIP! (and RIP to the City of Los Angeles and all the Business who have fallen.)

    • Fed Up says:

      Give it a rest! Republican rants are becoming tedious. Someone’s suffering from brain rot, just like Reagan, from all that “Kook” Aid he’s been swilling.

  6. Teddy says:

    Never say die, Wayne. It isn’t over until it is over.

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