Is it wrong to talk about movies instead of soldiers on Memorial Day? If so, I apologize in advance.
My experience growing up, and continuing to this day, is that Memorial Day signals the start of the summer blockbuster movie season. It’s not really summer to me without a big-budget sci-fi extravaganza in the theaters, a movie to wait in line to see, a movie with lots of hype and merchandising.
It was only when I got older when I realized how disrespectful that was.
My father served in both the Navy and the Coast Guard. He rarely talked about that service; he viewed it, I think, as just a means to get away from a rough situation at home, and a way for a poor kid from Jersey to get an education. He learned a trade, electricianisming, and got to see a little bit of the world, including atomic blasts in the South Pacific, and ended up on the West Coast to meet the woman who would be his wife for over 40 years, and he put all that military stuff behind him.
I remember him telling me, when I was a teenager, that military service wasn’t necessarily the best route for me. I had a few friends who joined one or the other armed services; Troy, the guy who married Karen after high school, became an Army Scout. Charlie, a friend I met though playing Dungeons & Dragons, went into Naval Intelligence. Few of my other peers even thought military life was an option.
Am I over-generalizing? Maybe. I’m just now realizing just how much of pacifists my group was. I remember my Great Aunt Carmen complaining about how popular “Star Wars” was by saying, “all these kids are against war… and then they flock to see a war movie!” I was offended. Not by her generalization of peace-loving hippies, but by suggesting that “Star Wars” was comparable to “Force 10 From Navarone” or “The Big Red One”. I was blind. I mean, I even overlooked the very word, war, was in the title. But it was a different kind of war, I thought. Underdog rebels against the super-powered weapons and billions of stormtroopers, sure, but victory came down to individuals. Luke and The Force putting that proton torpedo in exactly the right spot, while Han Solo caused Darth Vader to go spinning off into space.
And before that could happen, Obi-Wan had to lay down his life to let them all get away. Obi-Wan was the soldier whose death affected me first. A fictional warrior who didn’t really die, not with The Force on his side.
Memorial Day weekend after Memorial Day weekend, year after year, summer wasn’t actually here until I’d gone to see a summer blockbuster. 25 May 1977 – “Star Wars” was released. 25 May 1979 – “Alien” was released. 21 May 1980, duh! – “The Empire Strikes Back”. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” in 1982, “Return of the Jedi” in 1983…
But the older I got, the more the reality of war impinged on my life. I came to know men and women who served in combat, notably during the First Gulf War. I slowly learned just why people were afraid of Vietnam Vets, and why Vietnam Vets were right to feel abandoned. My father felt more and more comfortable with his past service. I had my eyes opened by learning that members of my own family had had horrific war experiences long before I’d been born. And one of my closest friends and his wife is a veteran of military service.
And, of course, President George W. Bush lied us into occupation of a foreign country who posed no threat to us, leading to untold numbers of dead and wounded.
I know that the dead are not coming back; they’re dead and gone forever. They won’t float, transparent and suffused with a blue glow, to impart words of wisdom to the living, as Yoda and old Ben Kenobi did to Luke. They won’t be resurrected by the powers of the Genesis Device, to live again, as did Mr. Spock.
I hope that they died doing what they thought was right, and knowing that there are people, many people, out there who feel humbled and honored by their service, by the risks that they take and the challenges they overcome.
Happy Memorial Day.