“We Think It Is Important”

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For the past several days my thoughts have intermittently focused on Memorial Day. Several months ago, I was invited to speak at today’s Memorial Day Ceremony in Nocona. Sponsors for the event include the Nocona Chamber of Commerce and the VFW. I am both honored and humbled by the invitation. Consequently, I guess it stands to reason that I want to have something of value to share.

The hotel where I stayed last night is on Clay Street in Nocona. It is in the same block where my aunt and uncle’s furniture store used to be located. As I thought about them, Nocona, and the reason for my visit today, I remembered back in time.

The year was 1974. I think it was called the: “We Think It Is Important Campaign”. If my memory is accurate, the POW/MIA League of Families suggested it. Governmental officials in Vietnam were uncooperative in sharing information. They only paid lip service to sharing factual information regarding known POWs who did not return or MIAs whose circumstances were unknown. Someone came up with the thought that one of the things the Vietnamese most value is their land. Consequently, a call was made for assistance in promoting a public awareness campaign encouraging Americans to mail a teaspoon of American soil to Vietnam. It was thought that the visual presence of American soil might soften their resolve in being unresponsive to our requests for information.

Our family had posters with my brother’s picture on it to display. We set a table up on the sidewalk outside the furniture store and provided envelopes addressed to the appropriate Vietnam officials. We passed them out to folks who stopped by to visit. Many agreed to mail a teaspoon of soil. Others expressed their regrets regarding my brother’s circumstances.

I share that story simply to highlight the fact that families who are desperate for information about loved ones will stop at nothing to do what they can to get answers. As I thought about the: “We Think It Is Important Campaign” last night, I processed it in my 69-year-old mind. Were we crazy or what? When you expect folks who are irrational to be rational, isn’t it true that we’ve traded places with them and now are the ones who have become irrational? The same principle applies here. In 1974, at the age of 27, I was young, impressionable and desperate.

Our family’s quest for answers has been a long arduous journey. The upside is that we’ve had a lot of company on the way. We’ve always had support from extended family and friends. In addition we’ve made a lot of new friends along the way. Many of them are in identical circumstances. They, too, long for answers and a sense of certainty regarding their loved one’s fate.

So yesterday, when I asked myself why my anxiety level is higher than usual, I came up with a couple of answers. For one thing, I’ve never spoken at a Memorial Day ceremony before. Secondly, my drawing card for the invitation is linked to Ronnie’s story. That, too, provides me a sense of privilege and humility. Yet, in reality it is not just Ronnie’s story. It is our story. The fabric of our lives is so closely interwoven that the two stories become one. With tears in my eyes, I take seriously the responsibility to get it right?

In addition to thoughts associated to today’s ceremony, I’ve also been rolling around ideas in my head for my next workshop on grief. I’ve been invited to repeat the presentation I delivered at last year’s POW/MIA League of Families meeting in Washington, D.C. However, what if the same people opt to go for round two? They’ll want new information.

Consequently, over the past week or two, I’ve been absorbed in attempting to cognitively process and glean some kind of understanding out of the bits and pieces of new information I’ve collected over the past year. One thing is certain: “Conflict continues to exist”.

I’m not talking about conflict between the United States and Vietnam. I’m talking about the personal emotional, familial and fraternal conflict or lack of closure associated to that chapter of our personal lives. You tell me:

  • Why do over four million people come annually to pay their respects and pause before a black granite wall that includes more names than anyone can begin to imagine? Yet, in reality, most often it is only one name out of over 58,000 that people are interested in seeing.
  • Why for the past 28 years have a hundreds of thousands of people signed on for the “Rolling Thunder – Run For The Wall”? According to their published materials, it is: “To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world”.
  • What prompts folks to visit “The Wall” and leave notes, mementoes, or other information or items? Since 1982, more than 400,000 items have been left by visitors as remembrances and tributes.
  • What causes people like me to at times be blindsided by emotions? Sometimes I’m asked questions regarding Ronnie’s status or what we now know about what happened. When I attempt to articulate an answer, I find that I cannot. I discover a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

At any rate, I’m honored and privileged by the opportunity to speak at the Memorial Day Ceremony later this morning. I guess you could say, “We Think It Is Important”.

All My Best!

Don

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