War, loss and memories

Old section of West Point's Cemetery

Old section of West Point’s Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Memorial Day, how is it for those whose losses are real? How must it feel to go through another — or maybe your first — weekend when the whole country mourns with you,  then watch things return to normal for everyone else while they’ll never be normal again for you. Watch everyone else making new memories when you’re just trying to hang onto the old.

I was thinking this morning about my friend Dave. I can’t even bring his face into focus any more.

Dave was in the West Point graduating class of 1951, which was pretty much decimated by “the forgotten war” — Korea. We were pinned — do people still “get pinned” I wonder? — before he left that last time.

The “forgotten war” took place throughout most of the years when I was in college. It was soon enough after World War II that wars were perceived as between good guys and bad guys; we were the good guys. The draft was in place, Vietnam was years away, military service was a given for most young men. On New Year’s Eve at the Army/Navy Club in Washington recent West Point graduates tended to talk about who wasn’t there.

When the armistice was signed in July, 1953, a collective sigh of relief could be heard across the U.S. But two days after the armistice, Dave was killed by someone on the other side who hadn’t gotten the word. I never went to another New Year’s Eve party at the Army/Navy Club. After a couple of notes back and forth with Dave’s family, we lost touch.

Sometimes around Memorial Day, though, I wonder how they survived. Dave was smart, funny, gregarious, and loved the Army. He wanted eventually to become a military doctor.  He would have been 23 in another few months.