Got an email this morning from a friend who served, although not overseas, and it brought me to reflect on some of what I knew - but never really did.
Like me, you probably recall pictures of your uncles in uniform. Lonna had an uncle who died at Pearl Harbor. Her middle name, LaRae, was in his honor. My uncles, and I had many of them, all came home. And only a couple of years ago I found out one of my uncles had served at Iwo Jima, where he was in the "second wave" to hit the island. Recently I read With the Old Breed: at Pelelieu and Okinawa and discovered the horror that he must have faced.
Apparently he's been suffering from flashbacks and nightmares, and I can understand why. The onslaught was hideous at best, and to watch your brothers being slaughtered would have been emotionally overwhelming. I speak about WW II in particular, but it certainly applies to any war. Reading a biography about Truman told me much about Korea; another uncle served there, and I recall him working on his car on our farm when he returned, changing oil or whatever he was doing. In his case I recall a hush-hush that he didn't really want to talk about what he had gone through. He brought my mother a silk table cloth from Korea and it graced our dining table for years even though it was not the best of interior design, and it represents the memory I have of a good man.
I never heard of our classmates being called to Viet Nam but like all of you was painfully aware of the conflict that raged across our great land as that war developed - and finally ended. The early 70's have memories for me of student protesters at UNI holding a protest in the Student Union the night classes were canceled for the spring after the Kent State shootings. I was there for a night class and on break.
A few years later when I was in grad school many of my fellow students were vets from Nam; a neighbor who had lost both legs below the knee was working on his undergraduate degree. One day he invited me to watch movies he had taken from his helicopter gunner position. I could see tracers going down to the ground and coming back at him. It was a surreal experience to watch with him, especially because he was laughing during his commentary. Perhaps his memories were being suppressed, I don't know.
You have your own memories as well. Whatever they may be, I can only say that today, as one who did not serve, I salute the veterans.