Tom Engelhardt has a piece on How to Forget on Memorial Day (excerpt):
Afghanistan has often enough been called “the graveyard of empires.” Americans have made it a habit to whistle past that graveyard, looking the other way—a form of obliviousness much aided by the fact that the American war dead conveniently come from the less well known or forgotten places in our country. They are so much easier to ignore thanks to that.
Except in their hometowns, how easy the war dead are to forget in an era when corporations go to war but Americans largely don’t. So far, 1,980 American military personnel (and significant but largely unacknowledged numbers of private contractors) have died in Afghanistan, as have 1,028 NATO and allied troops, and (despite U.N. efforts to count them) unknown but staggering numbers of Afghans.
So far in the month of May, 22 American dead have been listed in those Pentagon announcements. If you want a little memorial to a war that shouldn’t be, check out their hometowns and you’ll experience a kind of modern graveyard poetry. Consider it an elegy to the dead of second- or third-tier cities, suburbs, and small towns whose names are resonant exactly because they are part of your country, but seldom or never heard by you.
I did check out the hometowns and I’ve never heard of Normangee, Texas. According to the 2000 Census, Normangee is a town of 719 people, 277 households, and 185 families.
Sgt. Wade D. Wilson, of Normangee, Texas, died May 11 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California. He was 22.
But even as we pulled out our troops in Iraq, and combat operations are planned to end in Afghanistan in 2014, the next operation is one with no easy exit.
Excerpt from Probably Not the Final Destination by Dale Ritterbusch (WLA. Volume 23 • 2011):
Fall semester, second week of class, a student stays after:
his field jacket, his scruffy beard
tell the story. I don’t know if you have noticed,
he says, but when I answer your questions
sometimes I lose my line of thought
and I stumble a bit trying to find it again.
I tell him the lie I hadn’t noticed, but his speech,
slurred, slowed, gives it away—a sergeant,
twenty-seven months in Iraq. My wife thinks
I have PTSD he says. Every class he stays after,
and there’s little I can say, little I can do
except listen: maybe there’s little anyone can do,
that old lesson we never seem to learn,
moving from “costly their winestream”
to the “red, sweet wine of youth”:
enough there to embarrass half the demons of hell.
At night the NewsHour runs pictures
of the dead, name, rank, hometown flashing,
holding, silently across the screen—the first man just eighteen.
We might remember Urien’s lament: “I bear a great
warrior’s skull; I bear a head at my heart.”
Or has war’s paradigm so changed
Urien’s progeny may now swear,
“I bear the dead, the half-dead
in my half-dead skull; I bear
the dead in my half-dead heart.”