Why Memorial Days keep getting better, and worse

Last night I was reminded why we live in the greatest country.

Watching the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS, (http://www.pbs.org/memorialdayconcert/) I felt we’re getting better at honoring those who give so much to keep our country free.

Brother--n-law Otto, front and center, is one of a long line of my family's sailors. Over the years many of my uncles, nephews and nieces have served in five of the six branches of the military.

Brother–n-law Otto, front and center, is one of a long line of my family’s sailors. Over the years a dozen or more of our uncles, nephews and nieces have served in five of the six branches of the military.

We’re getting better because after September 11th  we began recognizing the real value the United States Coast Guard provides in protecting our shorelines. Last night the concert added the National Guard to the list of armed services. I was happy to see all facets of our military honored at the Memorial Day Concert.

But the event also made the reality of war even worse as we become more aware of its lingering consequences.

Co-hosts Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinese role-played two brothers, Joe and Earl Granville, who enlisted in the National Guard and were called into combat after 9/11. This moving story reminded me of the long lingering and tragic results of war.  The following is from the PBS National Memorial Concert website.

The Longest Wars – The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are two of America’s longest military conflicts, surpassed only by the war in Vietnam. In the 13-year period of our two most recent wars, more than 6600 service members have perished and over 50,000 have been wounded in action.  Of those deployed, 28% of the force is comprised of National Guard and Reserve troops, and greater than 15% of the total force have deployed three times or more.

Joe and Earl Granville’s Story

Two weeks before 9/11, close-knit brothers Joe and Earl Granville started basic training in the National Guard, expecting a traditional deployment in domestic disaster relief and other aid efforts. Within a few months they were called up to provide security in Bosnia. In the summer of 2005 the brothers volunteered for service in Iraq, returning home by June of 2006. In that year of conflict, the brothers experienced a level of danger, destruction, and loss that would change their lives and those of their family forever. 

By the end of 2007, older brother Joe had a steady job, helping to support his wife and fellow Guard member Stephanie and their two children. Earl struggled to find steady work and decided to volunteer for Afghanistan, deploying in February 2008 to a remote outpost in the Kush Mountains – his third deployment as a Guardsman. Joe was devastated to see Earl off to war, unable to go along and watch out for his little brother this time.

On June 3, 2008, Earl’s Humvee hit an IED, killing two of his fellow soldiers and badly injuring his legs, one of which would be lost. Earl’s difficult recovery, an additional Iraq deployment by Stephanie and the arrival of their third child put enormous stress on Joe, on top of the deeply felt guilt and loss experienced during his first deployment to Iraq.

PTSD’s Inner Struggle

Joe likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This serious mental health problem is thought to affect somewhere between 11-20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and generally requires treatment by a trained counselor or therapist.
That part of the story ended with Joe’s suicide.

It’s difficult to image the depth of depression necessary to take one’s own life. My heart and prayers are with those who served, who suffered and who suffer still.

With that as a backdrop, I am grateful to live in this free country. We are free because so many of you have raised your hand to serve. “I’ll go,” you said. “Take me.” Thank you for your service, for your commitment to freedom. How I wish  just a bit of your commitment to freedom would rub off on others.

I can’t help but think of the many men in women in my own family who have served, and to Josh, Ethan and Ben who are serving now. Thanks to all who fight for our freedom. Happy Memorial Day. God, keep blessing America. Please lighten the hearts and spirits of those who suffer.


3 responses to “Why Memorial Days keep getting better, and worse

  1. Thank you … Thank you. Thoughts and emotions flood my heart and mind. Too many to share now except “thank you.” Thank You Kris for dedicating this article to a topic so often tip-toed around because it’s considered political instead of patriotic, or just plain (in)appropriate. Thank You to all those who served in any country, in any capacity. I was recently reminded of an important fact. You don’t have to fire a weapon to fight for our freedom. You need only say “Yes, I will help.” So a special THANK YOU to all those who served and continue to do so as they, and their families, live the consequences. We should raise our American flag and extend a grateful hand to all those we see in uniform. They serve every day … not just on Memorial Day, July Fourth and Veteran’s Day. Thank You.

  2. Well done, Kris. Damn well done.

  3. -I never miss the Memorial Day concert. There are always stories that hit pretty hard, like the story of the two brothers on last nights performance.

    I do fear that too many people have forgotten, if they ever knew what Memorial Day is about.

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