I've always had a difficult time saying 'Happy Memorial Day' or 'Happy Veterans Day.' Why? Because having numerous people in my life who are or were in the armed forces, I know what they are thinking about on these days, and most of it is anything but happy. I wish they could revel in the thoughts of the outdoor barbecue, galant parades, etc. I know of a few Vietnam vets in particular that, although they move forward and rarely discuss it, there is one thing that weighs heavily on them... It is called 'survivor guilt.'
Imagine rolling down the road behind the wheel of your new car with your friends by your side. You miss that there is a truck about to speed through the same intersection you are going through, even though you have the green light. You turn back just in time to see what is happening, but it is too late. There is a cacophony of screeching metal, shattering glass, squealing tires... and screaming. Imagine how you feel when one of your friends does not make it through the chaos. Everyone tells you it wasn't your fault, you didn't do anything wrong...but that doesn't matter. For the rest of your years you will feel horrible and wonder why it wasn't you instead of them. This is Survivor Guilt. This is the feeling of coming home and getting back to your family and friends when you know so many of your friends won't get that chance.
There are those who will never forget having to change into civilian clothes before leaving the base of entering the airport. They were shocked when they were warned to do so as a precaution to avoid being hit with a barrage of random items, having horrible things screamed at them and being spit on. I know this is a fact, as my own Dad was warned to never leave the base in his flight suit. After one particular deployment, he was in such a hurry to come home that he either forgot or just figured it wouldn't matter. He didn't realize he needed gas. I don't know what, if anything, the lady at the gas station said to him and I honestly don't think I would want to know. I do know that she spit on him. I can't imagine how he must have felt at the time, but knowing him like I do, I assure you the memory seared itself onto the wall of one of the compartmentalized sections in his brain with the feeling fully intact. All of that on top of having to come back without your friends...
So on Memorial Day, while honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, I also thank those who served. It is important to me that they know there are people who understand.