Ron Kaye: Honoring those who didn't make it home

May 26, 2012

One of my earliest memories dates to my fourth birthday, when it seemed like the whole world was celebrating with me.

The whole world was indeed celebrating, but it had nothing to do with me. It was May 7, 1945, the day the Germans unconditionally surrendered, the day before victory in Europe became official. From the Soviet Union to America, vast throngs of people took to the streets to rejoice in that moment of triumph.

Three months later, the Japanese surrendered, setting off more celebrations. Soon, my two uncles came home from war and like all the other GIs, they were treated as conquering heroes.


In 1947, the Cold War began and America has been at war virtually non-stop ever since: in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Libya, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Sudan, Kosovo and now the War on Terror that has engulfed Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and parts of Africa.

War, rumors of war, the scars of war — so many missions accomplished, but without the great victories that ignite public passions. Not one of these wars has seen the men and women who returned home from war, or those who didn't, honored by a massive outpouring of emotion and public gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

That's what Memorial Day is supposed to be about, how it came to be after the Civil War, growing out of the emotional parades and community events in small-town America, both North and South.

There's still some parades like the one in Canoga Park every year, and services at McCambridge Park War Memorial in Burbank, the Vietnam War Memorial in Montrose, the Veterans Memorial in Glendale and elsewhere in the area and around the country on Monday.

But we all know the holiday is about the start of summer fun, about barbecues and beer, fiestas and fairs, the Greek Festival, the Jazz and Reggae Festival, the Wine Fest and Wet Pool Party in downtown Los Angeles.

It's time to party, perhaps at best with a passing moment or two to think about all those who died doing their duty for their country and those who fought and came home with wounds of their bodies and psyches, what used to be called “shell shock,” or now, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Nothing can heal those scars as much as the glory of great victory in combat, something that has eluded us for so long as we played policeman to the world in costly and drawn-out wars in Korea and Vietnam, or with the end in sight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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