Archive 2008 - 2019

Memorial Day Reflections of a Vietnam Veteran

by Bill Dooling

I have a vivid and indelible recollection of my 10 year old self watching for the first time World War II Veterans placing a floral wreath, receiving a Present Arms order from a big uniformed Army sergeant and a squad of uniformed soldiers smartly executing a rifle salute. This scene took place at a Brigham Circle War Memorial dedicated to a Mission Hill hero who had been killed in World War II while defending America from our country’s mortal enemies. The unforgettable event was Memorial Day and the date was May 30, 1953.

After the ceremony at Brigham Circle the small band of veterans moved on to another dedication in another neighborhood square named for yet another fallen Mission Hill soldier.  Mesmerized by this ceremony and the somber and tear-filled looks on the faces of the adults I followed the soldiers aware that something important was transpiring but not fully grasping the significance of these formal ceremonies.
Of course, as I grew older I learned that these proudly marching uniformed men were no longer soldiers but rather neighborhood veterans who were performing a self imposed obligation to show respect, honor and indebtedness for the greatest sacrifice made by their fallen friends and comrades in arms. In my child’s eyes these veterans looked old but in retrospect I now realize many were young men in their early or mid 30’s.

As we approach Memorial Day 2017 I find myself once again reflecting on both that 1953 Brigham Circle memorial dedication and envisioning some of the scenes that TV viewers and newspaper readers will witness over this Memorial Day weekend. That earlier memory always stirs in me a powerful and emotional sense of awe and appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice that these honored men and women have made for our nation. Now, however unlike when I was a ten year old child  I also find myself thinking about the devastating loss and enormous sacrifice that the families of these great fallen have endured.

In 1953, as the Korean Conflict raged; many American families were enduring or had recently endured great sacrifices: on that memorable bright Mission Hill May morning my neighbors’ faces poignantly revealed their deeply felt sadness for those being honored. In 1953 the mood in the country surrounding Memorial Day was more solemn than today when fewer American soldiers are dying in combat and  fewer Americans have a direct personal or family connection to our Nation’s serving military members. Providentially, although American military deaths are fewer each year than in 1953 our civic responsibility to honor our fellow Americans who gave their lives for the protection of the Nation should not diminish with time and number. It must reverentially and permanently persist.

When I visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial I am always struck by the age of the soldiers whose names are listed on that Wall. Many were just 19 or 20 years old when they were “killed in action” so far from their home and  family; not much older than the students who I had the good fortune to teach at Millis High School. On this Memorial Day I will also think of my fellow old veterans who are perhaps achingly yet proudly marching to cemeteries or standing tall with tears in their eyes at a grave site of a fallen comrade. These sentinels who struggle to stand at a soldier’s attention despite their combat incurred physical or psychological wounds, advanced age and agonizing arthritis do so to silently demonstrate the honor, respect and gratitude they hold dear for their fallen brothers and sisters in arms.

On this Memorial Day I will once again  speculate if the old veterans, aging parents or family members will be wistfully wondering about what of life’s dreams could have been achieved for their loved one who “remains forever 19”.
Like past Memorial Days I plan to spend this hallowed Day thinking about and feeling grateful for the sacrifice that so many of our citizens and their families have made for my family, my fellow citizens and me.

Bill Dooling 1Lt US Army (Ret)
As member of the Holliston Democratic Town Committe