- Happy Birthday, JB!
Memorial Day Musings
For the second installment of the notes we’re running from some CFSBKers related to Memorial Day and leading up to “Murph,” we’re featuring an essay by Dr. Mike Cutaia, a past Athlete of the Month and faithful member of the gym for two years, along with his wife, Judy. Dr. Mike (also known as “that old stubborn horse that David and Noah try to whip into shape”) has done the majority of his work as a physician in the VA system. For the last nine years, he’s worked at the VA hospital in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn as Chief of the Pulmonary/Critical Care/Sleep Section in the Department of Medicine. He would like to begin his piece with a couple epigraphs:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Typically, our culture has a bad habit of commercializing and trivializing holidays to the point where we can easily forget the underlying reasons why they were established in the first place. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day come to mind. It’s a diversion to have to deal with all the nonsense in our culture surrounding these days. We can be lured so easily to forget the deeper message, the deeper meaning that is there. This meaning needs to be rediscovered and restored. Memorial Day is another important example.
Parades, flags, bands playing, hot dogs and barbecues, and a lot of hot air from politicians about patriotism and love of country is not enough. It has been said, “Old men declare war, but it is the youth that must fight and die.” One of my first experiences as a physician caring for veterans was to separate two veteran patients who were beating the crap out of one another with their crutches in a hospital ward over the politics of war. Welcome to this complex, confusing, and often complicated life. The task is to put the politics aside, and look just at the people. That’s where the gold can be found. Civil War general William Sherman reputedly said, “War is hell.” And it is. In so many ways. Both when you go and when you come back to civilian life.
That is why we need to remember the people who go to war no matter what the political issues may be. This is the deeper message and meaning of Memorial Day. It’s more about lives than flags. More about people. Those who are no longer with us and those who are alive and struggling to put their past in a healthy perspective. The latter group deserves our special attention. These are the people who are struggling to regain meaning and purpose after their wartime experience. It is important that we who have never served struggle to relate to that in some way. Can we sit in another man or women’s shoes for a brief moment and catch a small glimpse of the pain and agony of war? Often, one can’t truly comprehend what one has never been through oneself. So, some people say why even go through the pain of trying?
Here is the reason. The men and women who went to war gave us their hearts, their blood, and often their lives. We should not forget that. If we do, we run the risk of becoming dangerously disconnected from the pain of many among us. No matter what we think about war itself. No matter what we think about the motives for going. Some go willingly. Others have little or no choice. Just a way out of a bad set of circumstances at home. They all deserve our recognition. Especially when they face such huge problems on returning to civilian life like unemployment, homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injury, chronic physical disability, substance abuse, and a high risk of suicide, which is three times higher than the general population. It is easy to forget that we are the community they are trying to rejoin. Our openness and receptiveness greatly influences their struggle in many ways.
We must remember—because it is human to remember. Ultimately, life is short. We ourselves want to be remembered. It is human to want this simple thing. No one wants to be forgotten. I have five childhood friends who never returned from Vietnam whose names are on the wall in Washington. This is one of the big lessons my work with veterans has taught me. Not to forget.
The links below are Dr. Mike’s suggested further reading about veterans.
The Problems Facing America’s Veterans care2
Female Veterans More Likely To Commit Suicide care2
Suicide Among Young Veterans Rising At Alarming Rate The Huffington Post
John Walsh: Preventing Veteran Suicide Is ‘The Cost Of War’ The Huffington Post
Special Memorial Day Programs Tell the Stories of U.S. Armed Forces War Veterans YAHOO