May 302011

Today is a “bank holiday” in several other countries. In the U.S., it has a different significance. It honors members of the U.S. military who died in service.

I wasn’t going to say anything about Memorial Day here. First, people come to NCS for metal, not anything else. Second, I’m not into flag-waving and patriotism and America-First sloganeering. All that usually seems to me like one more thing that retards people from thinking for themselves. Plus, I like and admire people from other countries and their cultures (many of whom I’ve gotten to know through NCS). And there’s also the borderline anarchic nature of my own personality.  🙂

I also have my own opinions about the wars the U.S. has been fighting. But that’s neither here nor there. What decided me to write this was just thinking about men and women in the military, in my generation and younger generations, who’ve been killed and maimed and hurt psychologically and emotionally doing things most of us (thankfully) will never have to do. Doesn’t matter that they’re volunteers for these jobs. Doesn’t matter whether I or anyone else necessarily believes in the rightness of the wars they’ve been told to fight. All that matters is that many of them have been and still are in harm’s way, and many have not emerged unscathed, or emerged at all. So, I think they deserve a few moments of thought and reflection, and honor.

I watched part of an interview last night on the 60 Minutes TV show of a guy named Salvatore Giunta — a 25-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant from Iowa who last November became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the war in Afghanistan for his bravery in an ambush that killed two of his mates. It was not what I expected. When he was asked in a different interview about what he thought when he heard he was to receive the nation’s highest military honor, he said this:  “‘Fuck you,’ I thought. It sounds really awesome in theory, but what’s it worth? Brennan? Mendoza? No. I did what I did because in the scheme of painting the picture of that ambush, that was just my brush stroke. That’s not above and beyond. I didn’t take the biggest brush stroke, and it wasn’t the most important brush stroke. Hearing the Medal of Honor is like a slap in the face. I don’t think you know what I did. I didn’t do shit.”  (more after the jump . . .)

On 60 Minutes, Giunta wasn’t quite so vivid in his choice of words. But what he said made me think about the meaning of Memorial Day. Here are a few excerpts:

“I’m not at peace with that at all. And coming and talking about it and people wanting to shake my hand because of it, it hurts me because it’s not what I want. And to be with so many people doing so much stuff and then to be singled out – and put forward. I mean, everyone did something. Okay, someone wrote about this, and then someone else approved it. And then a story was told and handshakes were made, and then sooner or later, I’m talkin’ to the president of the United States. I don’t see how that happened.”

“I’m average. I’m mediocre. This is only one moment. I don’t think I did anything that anyone else I was with wouldn’t have done. I was in a position to do it. That was what needed to be done. So that’s what I did.”

Author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger happened to be filming with Giunta’s unit near the time of the action that led to Giunta’s medal. He made a short film (just over 14 minutes) about what happened, which includes comments by Giunta, describing what happened and more about how he feels now. It’s pretty strong stuff. So, watch it if you feel up to it. That’s all I’ve got in this remembrance of Memorial Day — which to me isn’t about flag or country or politics, it’s about remembering people.

The Sal Giunta Story from SebastianJunger/TimHetherington on Vimeo.

  8 Responses to “MEMORIAL DAY”

  1. Ah, the Restrepo boys. Watching that felt sort of like seeing old friends. I hate that commander wossname, though. He did a good job convincing me that he’s a pretty good approximation of what is wrong with our armed forces during the course of Restrepo and that short film.

    This puts me in a very difficult place. While I like being American the fact of the matter is I was a dual citizen for years, and I believe that war is wrong. I have a friend who was shot in Afghanistan and lived. I have many more going there NOW. I cannot help thinking that all of this safety, or the end of radical Islam or Al Quaida is not worth my friends’ lives, to me. I also can’t ignore, as a man of Latin American descent that there’s an awful lot of black and brown men and women with Hispanic names out there in those rock hovels, but I’ve yet to see one soldier with a last name Bush, Clinton, Kennedy, Palin, Gingritch, Giuliani or even Obama.

    So some angry young men killed a lot of Americans in two tall buildings, but for the decade after fear and the knowledge that people I know will continue to die in the wilderness half a planet away have permeated every aspect of my life, and the only compensation i get is a ticker across the bottom of my TV, a day off work, and some bits of metal pinned to the chests of lucky men I don’t know.

    People I never met died so I can type this… But nobody anyone voted for.

    Fuck it.

  2. i remember history classes, when kings used to leave the throne to fight, nowadays these “kings” just seat behind their desks, waiting to be acknowledged for some war they never fought, congratulate those who came back, and tell the people to mourn those who died.
    war is wrong, and no innocent lives should be taken just so some egocentric/religious bastard can bask in his own glory.
    Ive never fought a war, i hope i never have to, but losing someone you love, because of someone else’s hatred is i don’t even know… that goes both ways, “good guys” or “bad guys”, depends on which side im on.
    Stone walls with their names or golden medals for watching your brothers die, doesn’t work for me, the damage is done.
    i hope i didnt sound anti american or something like it, i respect the fact that you remember your brethren, but it would be a happier day if no lives were lost.

    • typo over there…..“good guys” or “bad guys”, depends on which side you’re on…

    • You certainly didn’t offend me, because i agree with what you’re saying. Sad fact is that some wars have to be fought because someone else starts them. Equally sad fact is that the people who start them aren’t teh ones who pay the price. It’s the ones paying the price that I’m thinking about today.

  3. Y’know, twice now I’ve tried posting a comment that expresses my sentiments towards American politics and world politics in general, but my internet stops responding when I click the submit button. So instead of typing it all for a third time, for two reasons, the fact that I don’t feel like it, and the fact that my second submission didn’t seem as good as the first, I’m just going to say that the troops are doing a great job protecting us, and they don’t deserve a holiday, or whatever the fuck Memorial Day is, because they deserve this kind of recognition EVERY FUCKING DAY THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR US, AND OTHERS ACROSS THE WORLD.

    • Now I realize after posting that, I could’ve said they deserve ever-lasting respect, not just for the time they served.

  4. I agree with Utmu that it shouldn’t be just one day (or two, with Veterans’ Day). Having a holiday or two doesn’t hurt, though. Then again, there are many here in the United States who look down upon the military and the men and women who serve, so this day is just another day off from work.

    Without seeing the 60 Minutes interview, it’s hard to say what kind of person Salvatore Giunta is, but based on watching the 14 minute video, I would say that he’s among those who don’t feel that they’re a hero, brave or otherwise noteworthy. Most that are don’t feel that way; it’s others who give out such terms when not in the movies or in comics. Not that he’s done anything that many others haven’t done before. So, why the recognition for this one soldier? I dunno.

    Although I don’t have more to go on, this video does give me another thought – we need more guys like Sal in the military and fewer fuckwits that give the armed forces a bad name and help give other countries that eye us with suspicion or outright hate us more of a reason to feel that way. This is the kind of guy I want representing our country, whether he’s out there putting his ass on the line in combat or doing whatever else may come routine for the men and women who are serving our country.

    • Man, well-said in all respects. I found a video of the 60 Minute interview, but it was so damned full of ads that I couldn’t bear to put it up here. It was done later in time than the 14-minute film, and Sgt. Giunta seemed to have given what he went through and how he has been honored more thought (not surprisingly). But he’s still in the same place, though maybe calmer about it. A very impressive guy.

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