A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. ~Edward Abbey
I was out riding my bike the other morning. It was a chilly day, in the 40s, so I had to put on the biking tights, layer the upper body with base layer, shirt, and jacket, wear an ear warmer under my helmet, and don the long fingered gloves. I am not a big fan of riding in the cold but will, on occasion, ride in the winter snows just so I can get some time on my bike. Winter riding in the woods is strangely quiet except for the wheels of my mountain bike crunching on the snow. It’s not winter yet so I was out on my vintage, early 1980s road bike for a city ride.
My goal for the day was to see more of the city and to stop by the Marilyn Monroe statue. I road on the shared lanes on some of the main streets in Chicago, up California, down Milwaukee Ave, across Chicago until I arrived at Michigan Ave then South to the Marilyn Monroe statue, the one with the skirt raised in the back. I sat there for a while people watching then took a few pictures before heading out. From a bridge, I saw a path along the river so carried my bike down a flight of steps and hit the path. I rode toward the lake, turned around on a pier, then headed back along the river.
In my meanderings, I accidentally stumbled came across the Chicago Remembers memorial to the Vietnam War. Actually, I don’t really believe in accidents. I believe God orchestrates events in our lives, that everything happens in our lives for a reason. And, for a reason as yet unknown to me, I was supposed to ‘happen’ upon the memorial this day. I parked my bike and stared at the memorial.
The Chicago Remembers memorial is similar to the one in Washington. It is one the largest in the nation outside of Washington, D.C. It features a fountain and a black granite block etched with the names of Illinois soldiers either killed or missing in action. As I read some of the names, I felt the tears welled up in my eyes, as they always seem to do when I think back to that war. So many wasted lives. So much untapped potential.
Although I was just 14 years old when the Vietnam War ended, it has always been an event that aroused strong emotions in me. I remember sitting in front of the TV with my dad and listening to the body counts on TV. I remember worrying that I would someday be drafted into the Military Service. My dad and I used to have intense arguments about the validity of the war, about the purpose of our country being in a far away foreign land where young lives were being wasted on a daily basis for a dubious cause. I remember hatred, hatred for the soldiers I dubbed as baby killers without really knowing the circumstances in which they had to operate. I remember seeing the movie Platoon for the first time at the Evanston theatres and, after the movie ended, sitting in my seat unable to move as tears streamed down my cheeks. It was many years before I could see that movie a second time.
The war, rather the way our government lied about the war, created a great gulf between the people and the politicians. Prior to that war, the people as represented by my father backed the government in all decisions, trusted the people elected to represent the people of these United States with honesty and integrity. The legacy of those lying politicians, I believe, has lived long past the war, long past their reign in power of these United States. The legacy began with the civil unrest of the turbulent 60s and 70s from a youth that refused to be hoodwinked, perhaps the most tumultuous times on our soil since the Civil War. I believe we are still suffering under the legacy of those politicians in the form of a populace that has a difficult, if not impossible, time trusting modern day politicians. I think we mistrust government first and foremost. I don’t think this is always a bad thing for I think a people should always question the elected, to hold them accountable to the people.
I have thought about seeing the memorial quite a bit the last three days. I still don’t know why I ‘happened’ upon it, however, I am glad I did for it resurrected long buried, cherished memories of my interactions with my Dad, a man I miss very much, the man who brought me into this world and who taught me a great deal about living a full life and leaving a legacy worth remembering.