There is a picture that I found last January while moving that is one of the most cherished items in my possession. If a fire were to break out in my humble abode, it, along with my encased American flag would be on the short list of items to take with me as I run out the door.
The photograph was taken when I was in junior high and includes your truly standing in between my two grandfathers. They're both deceased now, but their memories and legacy flow strongly in my blood. The backdrop is the cemetery in my hometown and was snapped immediately following a service on Memorial Day at the veterans' plaza.
A smirk grows on my face when I see my adolescent-self dressed in my class A Boy Scout uniform, weilding the alto saxophone that I used to provide an echo during the playing of Taps at the commemoration. I can still remember the dampened eyes of the people gathered when those piercing notes carried in the air.
You see, I never realized how much military training I received in Scouts, or at least I had forgotten it, until a couple of weeks ago when I DJed an ROTC Military Ball for high school students. As I watched the color guards process in with the colors as well as perform rituals to hand over leadership to a new class of officers, I was struck by the familiarity of the movement, the language they used and just the all-around environment.
The past few years have been hard for Americans (to provide an understatement). I'm not sure if my international friends can know fully the dissonance that many of us are experiencing; especially as it relates to our military. Story upon story of atrocity has been met by disbelief from those of us who grew up either serving in the armed forces, or as children/grandchildren of veterans. There is a strict code of camaraderie that I think goes unspoken for the most part, it is what binds a unit together; it is that unbroken bond that will send them back into a warzone to make sure their straggling friend is not left behind or stops their hand from mistaking innocent bystanders for "the enemy".
The code also involves a sense of honor, echoed by the mantra of the Boy Scout Law: A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
While I understand those types of virtues are hard to swallow when they're being recieved at the end of a weapon in a warzone, its the inner-formation of a soldier/scout that I wish to highlight with this post. I never got a chance to talk to either of my tatas about the details of their military service and I deeply wish I would've gotten that opportunity. For now I will have to settle for the huge lump in my throat as I type these words; recalling the caring, loving men they were until they left this world.
This Memorial Day is going to be difficult for the American people, at least I feel it should be. The armed forces are being guided by bi-partisan leadership that has lost all semblance of personal responsibility and how it relates to the usage of force. I believe, and I find that I'm joined by a growing number of veterans, that the unspoken code of honor has been breached. It is resulting in widespread bloodshed and anguish in our world. I fear that the global system is going to get much uglier as it corrects itself and puts American imperialism and neo-con led "democratization" in its place.
It must happen though, balance must be restored, the code upheld. As I/we await that day, I will simply use this Memorial holiday to watch the silent glow of the candle I lit near my Eagle Scout flag and the picture of my abuelitos to remember all of the lives who have been lost in the name of war. Lives that transcend all borders, ethnicities, genders, religions, etc. Lives that are tied together by our humanity. By remembering, I strengthen the resolve within myself to work towards making sure that I, and the people I surround myself with, will work towards Peace and bridge-building.
On this day, I honor those who honored themselves by remembering that the human spirit's power is best wielded when we live our lives in such a way that everyone who comes in contact with us feels an obligation to be a better person themselves.