The call of patriotism and the imperative to remember those who answered it -- these are the threads that unite every war and every Memorial Day.
But no war -- and no Memorial Day -- is exactly like any before or after; each mirrors its moment in time. Today's holiday finds a new group of veterans from the Persian Gulf war -- now being feted by a grateful nation -- joining the ranks of those who served in Vietnam, Korea and the two world wars.
Here -- on this day of remembrance -- are the reflections of four local veterans, one from each of the four most recent conflicts, on their military service and their homecomings.
Roland Newman, 42, lost his brother and both his legs in Vietnam. Caught in artillery fire in 1969 on a North Vietnam hill, the Marine came home and spent a year in the hospital for his physical wounds. The Woodlawn man spent many more years suppressing and ultimately coping with his psychological wounds he brought home.
"My friends stayed away from me. They did not know how to respond to me -- I used to be a fast runner, in sports. Now they see me with no legs. My girlfriend married me out of obligation. We stayed married four years, we had one good year out of that. I'm remarried now, and it's wonderful. She didn't know me before.
"I wasn't bitter when I came home. I think I took it in stride. At the time, post traumatic stress disorder wasn't known. I wasn't aware of what I had until the bombing of Beirut. I sat up for three nights watching it on TV. I started feeling real cold, I couldn't breathe, I started crawling on the floor. They put me in the psych ward. They explained to me what was happening, and now I'm able to cope. They taught me relaxation techniques.
"I resent a lot more than I did in the past. My brother got killed and I accepted that: I look at it now, and I ask myself, 'Why? He died for what?' I have a strong resentment toward the government, the U.S., because we were not allowed to do the things we should have done to win.
"It took years to acknowledge what the guys did for the country, and now here's the gulf war . . .
"My definition of war is seeing your friends die, wondering whether or not you would get killed. War is smelling what death smells like. War is somebody's body blown apart. War is going over terrain, stepping over bodies of guys you talked to the day before. War is seeing a young Vietnamese boy's life taken away. War is silence, and that's the scariest thing about war.
"[In Saudi Arabia], they couldn't wait to get into combat. They don't know what combat is. Someone should take the two wars, because there's no comparison, and show the faces, look at the eyes, of the two soldiers. The gulf soldier -- he didn't have that war stare. That war stare.
"I think it's a release [for Americans]. Victory -- they would have accepted any victory. They sort of redeemed themselves. The Vietnam War was embarrassing to them.
They're back on top again. They're going to have these parades. They can raise the flag again."
Earl House's war is still waiting to be memorialized in Washington nearly 40 years after its conclusion, although he and other veterans hope to see a monument erected by 1993. Veterans like Mr. House, a 59-year-old truck driver in Baltimore and treasurer of the Maryland chapter of the Korean War Veterans, have spent years collecting money for it.
"A lot of guys have passed away. They won't ever get to see the memorial. Monuments signify. Monuments are for the people who got killed. We lost 54,000 men in Korea. We still got men missing in action. Why can't we get our men back? Why can't the Vietnam guys get their men back?
"I was 19 when I went in. I enlisted in the Army. . . . I just wanted to do something for the country. We all did. No one went to Canada like in Vietnam.
"I was no John Wayne. I was scared to death. We were getting killed right and left. It was pure murder up there.
"We were on reconnaissance patrol the end of August . We took a hill, and there were dead men from the 24th Division on it. That was my first sight of dead Americans. There were 10, 12 of them. That night, we got hit with mortar and artillery fire. I got hit in the shoulder; the man next to me got killed. We were still getting shot; the medics wouldn't come get us. The tanks came back. I got to the first aid station, then I spent a month in Japan. I came back to Korea in October and went back on the line.
"When we came back to the States, we had family parties, but no parades. I thought for sure we'd get a ticker tape parade. And as far as me getting a beer, I had three rows of ribbons and a Purple Heart but I was still underage.
"As far as the Saudi Arabia war, they were over there seven months and they got more glory, more parades, more welcome-backs that the Korean War and Vietnam War guys put together. I don't know, I can't explain it."
WORLD WAR II
Bob Fanning, 66, finance manager of Post No. 9083 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Parkville, will spend Memorial Day -- the real day, May 30, rather than the last Monday in May -- in a quiet, solemn ceremony the post holds every year for its dead.
"Eighty percent of our membership is from World War II -- they're too damn old to march in a parade.
"I enlisted when I was 17. That was the attitude of everybody in the neighborhood where I grew up. Everybody then was so gung-ho -- the country had been threatened when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
"I joined the Navy, the 5th Amphibious Force. We invaded all the islands -- the Philippines, Okinawa, Iwo Jima. I was in just about everywhere. I was aboard a ship for two years before I put my foot down on dry land. There was no such thing as liberty or rest periods.
"I was one of the fortunate ones. I was not hit -- came close, mighty close -- but I was lucky.
"I was still in [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute] when I enlisted. I hadn't graduated yet. I didn't get my GED until I was 50 years old. They were giving the GED test at old Poly, I qualified for it the first time around.
"I got married when I got back; I had a girlfriend before I left, and I married her. There were a lot of job openings all around when I got home. I used the GI Bill to buy my house.
"A lot of the attitude around here is that [the events honoring gulf veterans are] almost to the point of overdoing it. We had yellow nTC ribbons here, we were gung-ho. But I think, 'Now they've been honored. That's should be about it.' "
Sgt. Charles Oakley, 25, is back home from Desert Storm, where his Fort Meade-based military unit served from October through March. The Glen Burnie resident, originally from South Bend, Ind., plans to go back to college and become a schoolteacher when his enlistment ends in seven months.
He came back to a nation full of gratitude and, perhaps more important, to a son who was born Dec. 4, while he was away.
"It's been nice, but there's still a lot of people over there. We should remember them until they all come back.
"I'll probably be working [on Memorial Day]. It's hard: I don't feel like a veteran, I guess because I'm still in the military. I don't understand the concept of what is a veteran. It's my job. My grandfather served. My father served, and now me. My grandfather was in World War II. My father's a Vietnam-era veteran. . . . It was my turn. My father didn't really like it when I went over, but he realized it was my job.
"If you're in the military, you expect to be deployed. When I first came in, we started having problems with Panama. I was there for 5 1/2 months. So once Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, it was only a matter of time.
"I can't really tell you what I did over there. I can just say what I did was basic Military Police duties, supply route security, for example.
"I haven't been in any parades, but it's been really nice being back. People are extremely grateful. It's really a good feeling. They tell me they're thankful we were over there."