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and we would all go down together

My sister's father-in-law died this week. That's whose wake I went to tonight.

Rob's dad was a Vietnam vet. He spent the last year or so of his life in and out of the Vet's hospital, battling cancer. He took a turn for the worse earlier in the week and they started him on a morphine drip. Which means, if you've ever been in this situation with a loved one, that it's time to say good-bye. Rob's dad died that night.

At first, my sister wasn't sure when the funeral would be because the hospital couldn't find his honorable discharge papers and you have to have those papers to be buried in a national cemetery. Imagine having to deal with the death of your father and then, on top of that, having to worry that you wouldn't be able to bury the guy right away because of some papers? My sister made the point that you can only get into a veteran's hospital if you were honorably discharged, so obviously Rob's father had the paper at some point, so that proves he had the discharge. Well, no. So the funeral home called Washington and Washington said, geeez, just bury the guy already. So all was clear.

So, the wake. The local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America were there. They were decked out in their combat fatigues and they lined up by the casket while the person I presume was the chapter leader said a few words about Rob's dad. Then they did a very synchronized, touching tribute, saluting the coffin two at time, turning on their heels, greeting Rob and my sister.

I was really humbled watching this. I am awed by veterans of any war, but especially Vietnam veterans. Perhaps this is because the Vietnam war took up a good chunk of my childhood and I remember so much about it. Mostly, I remember how the veterans were treated when they got home. They fought an unpopular war and came home as unpopular vets. After all they went through, I think coming home to that must have been worse.

I didn't know Rob's father that well. In the sixteen or so years I've know Rob, I think I met his dad twice, and once was at my sister's wedding last June. But Rob loved his dad and I love my brother-in-law, so....well, that's how family ties go, I guess.

On the way home from the wake I thought about the Billy Joel song, Goodnight, Saigon. I'm sure some people think it's too sappy, too overwrought but, like the Vietnam War itself, it haunts me. I've seen Joel do this song live several times. From the helicopter sounds in the beginning to the chorus of "we will all go down together" - I don't know how you can't have tears in your eyes and a bit of pain in your heart when you hear that.

I can't begin to imagine what it's like being in the middle of a war, your life on the line every single moment. I have incredible respect for the people who put themselves there.

This one is for Rob's dad and all the Vietnam vets.

Billy Joel - Goodnight Saigon (mp3)

lyrics below

We met as soul mates on Parris Island
We left as inmates from an asylum
And we were sharp, as sharp as knives
And we were so gung ho to lay down our lives

We came in spastic like tameless horses
We left in plastic as numbered corpses
And we learned fast to travel light
Our arms were heavy but our bellies were tight

We had no home front, we had no soft soap
They sent us Playboy, they gave us Bob Hope
We dug in deep and shot on sight
And prayed to Jesus Christ with all our might

We had no cameras to shoot the landscape
We passed the hash pipe and played our Doors tapes
And it was dark, so dark at night
And we held on to each other
Like brother to brother
We promised our mothers we'd write

And we would all go down together
We said we'd all go down together
Yes we would all go down together

Remember Charlie, remember Baker
They left their childhood on every acre
And who was wrong? And who was right?
It didn't matter in the thick of the fight

We held the day in the palm of our hand
They ruled the night, and the night
Seemed to last as long as six weeks...

...On Parris Island
We held the coastline, they held the highlands
And they were sharp, as sharp as knives
They heard the hum of our motors
They counted the rotors
And waited for us to arrive

And we would all go down together
We said we'd all go down together
Yes we would all go down together

Comments

I recently joined Rolling Thunder and I'm riding my motorcycle to D.C. with them to honor all vets. I'll be attending a candlelight ceremony at The Wall on Friday night and the dedication of the WW2 Memorial on Sunday. C-Span and the History Channel will cover the latter on Saturday at 2:00pm.

http://ville.blogfodder.net/archives/2004_05.html#010360

http://ville.blogfodder.net/archives/2004_05.html#010347

My uncle---a WWII vet---passed away two years ago. He lived in Florida, but wanted to be buried in our hometown next to his wife. Many of his friends from his time in service came to the wake and to the funeral. I know what you mean about it being a humbling experience, and one that fills you with awe for the sacrifices they made. And still make.

I guess I hadn't realized how seriously some of them still took the military and how much respect they had for it until my cousin, a major general, got up and apologized to the vets in attendance at the wake, saying that the funeral home had goofed up my Uncle's uniform. His medals and ribbons had been incorrectly placed on his uniform. I found out later that many of the vets in attendance had mentioned this to my cousin with the full expectation that he would take care of it. And he did. My cousin was mortified about it and he never gets embarrassed about anything.

Even with my cousin's rank, there was no way he could pull a full honor guard for the funeral because of the war. The local VFW took care of it instead, and it was better than if it had been young soldiers. These were men who had known my uncle, who were in the same age range, who had seen the same things that he had. They were burying one of their own. While it was odd to see older, somewhat stooped gentlemen in VFW polo shirts and their uniform caps shooting off rifles for a 21 gun salute, at the same time it was very fitting that they should perform the task.

I'm sorry for your family's loss.

Man, this makes me feel old. I remember checking the obits about 20 years ago here in AZ and marveling at all the WWII vets--about half the men who were dying were listed as having served in that war.

My hat is tipped to all who have served, in peace or war time. My uncles served in WWII and Korea. They all deserve our utmost respect and thanks.

Posts like yours remind us of their sacrifices. Thank you.

I'm sorry for your family's loss, Michele. My dad, grandfather, and uncle are all in the Willamette National Cemetery in Oregon. The last time I went out there to visit them, there was a funeral going on with a full VVA escort of Harleys. National cemeteries are imposing places, full of a quiet spirit and faith in our country.

I can usually maintain until they hand the flag to the surviving loved one.

Then I can't.

Very sorry for your family's loss Michele.