Memorial Day on the National Mall

I spent the day yesterday on the National Mall participating in the Memorial Day Writers Project. Musicians, poets, and writers—most of us veterans—offered our art to assembled listeners. I was struck by three aspects:

First, so many of the writers were so good. These men and women are inspired pros. They’ve mastered the craft and were born with the requisite creativity. And they have something urgent to write about.

Second, I was surprised by the number of writers and musicians who had served in Vietnam. They spoke and sang of places I knew so well. They had fought with units I’d supported on the ground. For once in my life, I was talking with people who knew what I meant when I said “in-country” (Vietnam) and “the world” (the U.S.).

And finally, over and over, no matter which war the performer was involved with, I was moved almost to tears by the grieving they expressed for fallen buddies. They, like me, will never recover from the loss of the guys killed standing next to them. We share wounds that never heal.

I came to see with new clarity that people who have never experienced combat cannot understand the way it shapes those who have been through it. But those of us who have lived through fighting on the battlefield can offer healing and comfort to other combatants. When I am with men who have fought in battle, we recognize each other. Nothing needs be said. We are with our brothers.

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