Living With the Past?

On this date fifty years ago, David Charles Marshall Jackson took his last breath. He was one of thirteen men who lost their lives on that nasty February night.1

For most of the country, they are a handful of names among the more than 58,000 inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial, soldiers only a few remember. For a few others, including this writer, they are more.

Those thirteen men included brothers, sons, friends, drinking buddies, and maybe fathers. The oldest was thirty-one, the youngest eighteen. It is certain they all looked forward to life after Vietnam.

Whether they looked forward to seeing loved ones, starting careers, a career in the Army, starting families, or just hanging out at the local bar having a cold one, they had dreams. Those dreams and the dreams of the those they left at home died that night. I know. David was my little brother.

David dreamed of coming home and starting a family. His mom dreamed of having her younger son back in the United States and not fearing every unexpected knock at the door.  I dreamed of getting to know the man my snot-nosed kid brother grew into after moving with our dad years before.

I am confident the others who died that night, as well as the ones they left behind, had similar dreams. However, this piece is not being written exclusively in memory of David, his fallen comrades, or the loss their families suffered. This piece is being written for the veterans who made it home and may still be dealing with the loss of the thirteen remembered here or some of the other 52,000 names on that wall.

Many of the names on the Vietnam memorial are little more than fading or faded memories. Friends have moved on, parents have died, siblings have allowed their memories to disappear because they are painful or were replaced by other losses and challenges.

For some, that is the only way to deal with the loss. They hide it or stuff it in the back of the mind to be remembered once a year, if that often. For others, those names and faces may never really fade. For them, a regular everyday activity may bring back the memory of a smiling face in a faded photograph hidden away in the attic. In some cases, those memories are a comfort. In others, they bring guilt, loss, or emptiness.

Over the years I have been honored to work with or know many combat veterans. Over that time, I have come to know their stories, their challenges, and the pain some carry with them decades later. I have written about this before, most recently in One Day at a Time, and today I feel the need to make one more point.

If David and many others on that wall, could talk to us today they would say something short and to the point. They would appreciate being remembered, but they might be concerned if their loss was still causing feelings of guilt and pain after all these years.

David and the others on the wall would tell friends and family to quit remembering what happened to them. Instead, remember them the way they were the last time they shared drinks, swapped lies, or made jokes about some hotshot young officer.

  1. For more about that night, see Lest We Forget

© – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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