Honoring Veterans 

by Brad Cotton

(published Circleville Herald  - Memorial Day 2011)

Should my wife and I ever visit Europe I want to see "Mourning Parents". Artist Kathie Kollwitz placed sorrowful stone likenesses of herself and her husband at the Vladslo War Cemetery near Ypres overlooking the grave of her son Peter and 25,000 of his fellows killed 1914-1918. It is said that one visiting the Verdun, the Somme and Passchendaele battlefields can see a half-dozen or more World War l cemeteries from any point along the  hundreds of miles of trench lines. Lt. and poet Wilfred Owen, killed in the last week of the war, said of this mass sacrificing of millions that it was as if this time, this century, Abraham disobeyed Gods' command to stay his knife  above Isacc's trusting chest:
"The Parable of the Young Man and the Old"
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
We must support the Soldiers Monumental Association in their striving to preserve Memorial Hall. One of the most massive buildings downtown Memorial Hall testifies to the deep need of Civil War veterans that we remember their unbelievable  sacrifice. The Civil War saw 600,000 killed out of a population of 31 million. If fought today, we would have lost  6 million dead. The Civil War monument at the entrance to Forest Cemetery, the tallest structure there, reminds me of the somber and honest  memorials in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg. No monuments to bravery, valor or patriotism here as combat is none of these things, it is only terror. As in the Wheatfield, where opposing regiments murdered each other taking 90% casualties, the monument at Forest reads starkly  " To our dead comrades".
My father and his brothers served in World War ll with the integrity and character of Capt. John Miller from the film "Saving Private Ryan". I worked a year in the early 80's as an RN on an acute psychiatry unit at the Brecksville VA. I got fairly good, by my assessment anyway, at playing pool with the guys. The VA was just opening up their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder program then. The vets of WWll, Korea, Vietnam, their hands trembled like Capt. Miller's relating  to us not so much what had happened to them, but what they had to do to other human beings.
Regarding the recent death of Osama Bin Laden and the joyous reactions of many, even pastors from the pulpit proclaiming it God's will, I quote World War ll veteran, POW and author Kurt Vonnegut from his preface to "Slaughterhouse Five". Vonnegut survived the US/British firebombing of Dresden  February 1945 that killed tens of thousands of civilians.  Vonnegut writes in 1968, amidst Vietnam headlines :" I have forbidden my sons to take part in massacres, nor are they to take delight in news of massacres of enemies." Perhaps God does speak quietly of peace and justice but, like Owen's Abram, we prefer war-- continuing our occupation of Afghanistan though Al-Qaeda is not there, invading Iraq though Al-Qaeda was never there.
This Memorial Day tell every veteran they have lived a good life, that they have earned it, as Private Ryan's wife confirmed to him standing at Capt. Miller's grave. Welcome them to life, love and forgiveness. Pray for the family of our own Gerald R. Jenkins, age 19, killed in Afghanistan. Let's listen to Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and honor veterans by making no more of them. If only peace stirred our blood like war.


--- Brad Cotton  --  member Veterans for Peace, Southern Ohio Chapter.