A Conflicted Veteran on Memorial Day
June 1, 2005
By Bob Geiger
I got a call about a week ago from a very nice guy who lives in
my town. He is one of the coordinators for our Memorial Day parade
and, via some list or another, knew I was a decorated veteran. He
asked me to join other veterans marching in honor of our country's
I was like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights - as much
as that is possible over the telephone - and I stammered some non-committal
reply that made him aware of my reluctance.
"I sense a lot of hesitation from you," he said kindly.
"Well, to be honest – and I don't want to offend you politically
– I don't feel terribly proud of my country right now," I said.
"I am so opposed to the direction our country is moving and the
way we are using our military, that I don't know that I can participate
in something like this."
"Well, I can appreciate that," he said. "But I hope you realize
that has nothing to do with the purpose of the parade, which is
to honor those who have given their lives for our country."
I knew he was going to say that. I knew it because I had already
thought the same thing and I knew he was right.
Memorial Day should be the king of all non-partisan events, a
day when we put aside our political differences to observe something
that we can all most assuredly agree upon – our gratitude for the
people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
The conversation ended very nicely with him saying he understood
my confusion and me promising to reconsider my participation in
All last week it bothered me. I couldn't get to the bottom of
why I could not emotionally parse all of this as easily as everyone
else. Why did I seem so unable to separate my own strong feelings
about our nation's actions in Iraq and my resentment over the misplaced
patriotic fervor that has swept our national landscape, from an
observance that has nothing to do with any of that?
After hours of thought, I realized that the core of my confusion
rested in the extremely divided state of our country over the Iraq
war and the strong difference of opinion on the reasons that 1,650-plus
Americans have died in that conflict. I came to the conclusion that,
no matter how apolitical the day should be, I simply could not march
shoulder-to-shoulder with people who voted for George W. Bush and
whom I hold at least partially responsible for the human losses
we have suffered under his administration.
Seeing people die under fire is an ugly thing and, as I quietly
reflect on those people, I know in a very personal way that the
men and women we have lost in Iraq mean so much more than the macabre
tote board published daily on the Defense Department web site.
These were real people with full lives - fathers and mothers,
sons and daughters, husbands and wives who will never be back because
of the ideological policies and lies of the Bush administration.
It was made very clear that my town's parade would be apolitical
and that nobody was allowed to wear political shirts or hats – from
any part of the political spectrum – or bring signs that would raise
But I couldn't go along with that, as the number of people we
have lost in Iraq impacts me in an overwhelming way far larger than
numbers on a page. Instead I considered, in my own way, the honorable
men and women who have given their lives throughout our country's
history and the people I have known whose lives ended very suddenly.
But I also wanted the ability to very specifically mourn those
1,650-plus Americans who have died unnecessarily. I wanted time
to reflect on their bravery and sacrifice and a few moments to feel
anger at the injustice of their passing. I could not march with
people who support the policies that led to their deaths and I could
not participate in something that subtly sustains the misguided
patriotism that makes so many Americans oblivious to how horribly
their families have been cheated.
I wanted time to think about the truth. It was the least I could
do for the most recent of those we honor on Memorial Day.