A Soldier’s Thoughts on Memorial Day
Jared Michael Royka
Today I choose to write because once again I am struggling with the guilt of my surviving my combat service unharmed and getting to go home. My life is a story in contradictions and things I have done or not done, it seems that I am adrift without those anchors I once held to so tightly. I do not feel sorry or ashamed for myself as that is a waste of the priceless gift I have been given by my gods, life. There are so many days now that I miss what I once had, mostly my identity as a soldier and a servant to our great people.
I miss teaching the young faces and hearing the grumbles of those just starting out on their service as a soldier. I miss my brothers and sisters in arms especially those whom I had the distinct honor and privilege to serve alongside directly throughout my 18 years of military service. I try to honor them each day by being thankful that I live and was blessed by knowing them. I find my body getting older and things don’t work as well as they did back when I was 19 and felt immortal.
Yet I see the cycle move endlessly about me as I view the world through those eyes of mine that have seen many things. The thing I have found most interesting about my life since being honorably discharged from active duty service, is that I see what my dad surely must have seen after his departure from the Army. I watch at a distance a world that I can never be fully a part of ever again. I am forever changed not just by my service but what I did as a soldier in both peace and war. I do not resent those whom do not understand why my eyes mist with tears when I return to a place I will never wholly leave behind.
I now know what it is that all veterans carry within themselves especially those whom survive to return home. I know now what it is my father saw in those moments he drifted back to another time and place. I know the shame he felt at being a “lucky one” who made it home, only reinforced by a nation that could not separate the war from the warrior. I am eternally grateful to my fellow citizens whom have so courteously and with such heartfelt honesty thanking those whom have served, are serving, or will serve in the future. Our nation learned many painful lessons during the Vietnam War and we still have much to learn and remember.
I remember every single moment and I each day offer prayers to my gods that my fellow warriors will never be forgotten so long as I remember, I cannot forget. My eyes stream with tears at how fortunate I am, when so many others paid the highest cost in the service of their country. It is the least I can do for having that gift that they gave so nobly and freely to all of us. We owe it to them and ourselves to reflect each day on what we have that truly matters most our humanity.
The events that propelled our nation into its current conflict have been largely forgotten by most. It greatly hurts me deep inside my soul that so many of our warriors, men and women, linger slowly fading into a background of the daily pressures of life. This is not out of a gross negligence on the part of everyday citizens but a larger issue that of we must never forget those whom have borne the scars of war. Less than 1 percent of our nation has served in the current conflicts that our nation has fought in recent memory.
What shames me more is that so many of us forget the costs paid to ensure our freedom is kept intact. We live in a world now that seems more chaotic and dangerous than ever. Yet we still move onwards towards a future that is often unclear to us till we have passed through it and it becomes the past. We argue over political and social viewpoints with an ever increasing hostility towards any whom may disagree with our point of view. This to me is the greatest tragedy of all as we seem to forget those bitter lessons history teaches us and so few now have to bear its weight till their dying day.
May 30th is a day set aside to remember and honor our fallen heroes, who have come from every place upon this earth, every walk of life, and ultimately chose a life of service to others. Yet I watch those whom see it as merely a day to go shopping or enjoy a barbecue with friends, not taking a moment to reflect on what it means to be free. Every day is a day of remembrance for our nation’s veterans; we lived those moments and cannot ever forget them even when we want to.
So I ask all whom read these words, remember and never forget the price paid and sacrifices laid upon the altar of liberty by so many. Remember not just those whom served directly but those whom are truly never seen. The mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones whom bear that memory of that sacrifice, they deserve your respect and thanks as well. Ultimately Memorial Day for me is a renewal of my sacred vow to remember and never forget the humanity and the human dignity of all whom have sacrificed so much in the service of our people, our nation, and our way of life.
That is why we have fought and bled our bodies, our hearts, and our souls for that is the most perfect distillation of our nation’s ideals. That is that all humanity has the right to be treated with respect and dignity no matter the situation. It is an ideal that we must never stop striving to achieve a state of perfection but when we fall or fail to remind ourselves why it is important in the struggle.
In closing I ask everyone before you hurl an epithet, insult, or slur at anyone remember what price was paid for that human dignity to be freely expressed. Remember that is a fellow human being and we are a people steeped in the idea that all humanity has a sacred right to be treated with dignity and respect. We will not always agree with each other nor will we always remember to be respectful of one another. But we are all human beings and thus deserving of that most basic right of our human dignity.