As a child, Memorial Day never held much meaning for me. I simply remembered it as a day when my father would wake at the crack of dawn and head down to the garage to dig through the mounds of rubbish that suburban dads tend to accumulate. He would curse and dig and fling crap this way and that, until he found the flag kit. Then he would quietly assemble the pole and string the flag and set it in the flag holder he had installed between the two garage doors when he had bought the house years before. In the same vein, my mother was maniacal in her remembrance to buy a card, which she filled with thoughts that she would discreetly leave on my father’s pillow for him to read at a time he saw fit. This low-key but religiously intense observation continued into our college days as my mother would always give a reminder phone call to my brother and me, “Don’t forget to wish your father a happy Memorial Day.”
My father was a Vietnam veteran, a war that isn’t comfortable to talk about and that for many years veterans were forced to cope with on their own. A result of his military service, including his exposure to Agent Orange, was a hastened death from carcinoma of an unknown primary source, which the government does not currently recognize as a cancer directly attributable to Agent Orange exposure.
The last few years of his life, as he lived with cancer and the prescient knowledge of his imminent death, he was happier than he had ever been. In a strange way, his cancer was cathartic, allowing him to live freer than he had ever before. Most importantly, he started to talk about his experiences in Vietnam, how he got injured, how he wanted to leave it behind him, and how the nightmares my brother and I were never privy to fucked him up more than he thought. He was always proud to be a veteran but he wore it as a badge of honor in his dying days rather than protecting his memories from the world as a parent might for a wounded child. Fuck, it was what was going to kill him prematurely so he earned it.
So as Memorial Day comes and goes, it takes on new meaning. I look through old pictures of my father’s time in Vietnam and wonder what the hell I would have done if the Department of Defense had sent me a letter telling me to report a week from now, with a token included in case I couldn’t afford the fare. If you would have asked my father, which I did, he’d tell you, “You’d go. That’s what you do. You don’t want to, but you sure as hell do it anyway.”
The men and women in the military are diligent and proud and honorable people and they sacrifice their lives on command, in hopes that everyday citizens, even ones that write for crackpot Web sites, can be free from harm. I bitch and moan when I get five McNuggets instead of six and when my boss gives me a hard time at work but I consciously try and do it less. Spending time with a dying man who makes absolutely no excuses will do that. At nights, when I would lie in a hospital cot next to his bed, I wanted to ask, “Don’t you ever wish you could just beat the shit out of the people who sent you into that Agent Orange-filled forest?” He never blamed anyone for his demise; he never made accusations or excuses or ran from it. He held his head up, rode his Harley until his dying day and made the best of what he had, proud to be one for whom the phrase “All gave some, some gave all” had intense meaning. He was proud and courageous and happy because he knew he would be remembered and that those that fell with him and that will continue to fall will not be forgotten.
In honor of my father, Gregory M. Jezarian, Sr., as well as all the military who have given their lives and their service in the name of our country and the belief that they are giving all in order to allow for a free and democratic nation, I give thanks and hold you in awe and promise that I will never forget.
Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking.
Sir Walter Scott
Please visit the following link for a photographic montage of Gregory Jezarian, Sr.’s tour of duty in Vietnam. His son, Gregory, created the video from over 350 slides that he found after his father’s death. Gregory Jezarian, Sr. served in Vietnam with the Big Red One’s famed Black Lions unit from 1968-1969.
(Requires Windows Media Player 9)