Thousands of bikers will roar into DC this weekend, rolling thunder to commemorate the service and sacrifice of those who, for one reason and another, participated in the aggression we call the Vietnam War.
Little notice will herald the sacrifice of those whose land was destroyed by that aggression, whose lives irrevocably changed—but anti-war thoughts are for another day.
On Memorial Day, we pay respect to those who put it all on the line in service to our country.
My mind inevitably turns in these times to Swepson Anchous East, Jr., part of the green wave that sailed West beyond Pearl and Tinian and Saipan to Iwo Jima. More than two years of war in the Pacific. He survived where so many others did not, much of his ordeal locked up in stoic reflection.
Later years, he opened up some, though I wager he took the worst with him to the grave.
I consider what little I know: awaiting death on his birthday in a foxhole, threatening the ‘Jap’ POW who kept saluting him—Do that again, I’ll shoot you myself, the roll of ships lobbing bombs to soften resistance.
All tales heard as echoes, fogged and remote. All actions, privations, ordeals done under one banner: Old Glory. Grandpa sailed west under the 48-star flag. He returned East under the same 48, all lined up 8-by-6.
He never much cared for what came after.
Following July 4, 1959, the banner got a 49th star for Alaska. August of that year, Hawaii was admitted to the Union, recognized as a star on July 4, 1960.
Grandpa endured years of mud and smoke, pestilence and death, for the 48-star flag. I’m unfurling it for him here again this weekend.
It flies for the other Veterans, too, equally recognizable as rolling thunder.