EDITORIAL: Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was proclaimed in 1868 by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans. Logan designated the day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.”

Referring to the war that defeated the slavocracy, Logan continued, “Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms.”

This Memorial Day, we mourn the dead in a very different, ugly, needless war.

George Bush and other officials utter flag-draped platitudes about fallen soldiers. But they shun flag-draped coffins of the nearly 2,500 who died in an imperial war based on lies, and ignore the many thousands of Iraqis killed. And they give short shrift to those returning home wounded in body and mind.

The number of Army soldiers committing suicide is the highest since 1993. Twenty-two committed suicide in Iraq last year, nearly one in five of all non-combat deaths. Meanwhile troops with severe psychological problems are being sent into combat.

The Pentagon says over 17,000 U.S. troops have been wounded, but many say the number is much bigger. Many “walking wounded” are not tracked. NBC News reported recently that combat brain injuries are common but often not reported.

“Iraq is not an OSHA-approved workplace,” Stephen Robinson, a Desert Storm veteran and executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, told a Gannett reporter. “So people are having extreme environmental exposures. Extreme heat and extreme cold and fine sand.” Soldiers breathe the sand, with chemical or biological contaminants, into their lungs. They are also contracting blood-borne diseases that can remain in the bloodstream for years, affecting their immune systems.

A new report, “From Vietnam to Iraq: Ignoring the Veteran Healthcare Crisis,” issued by Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Iraq Veterans Against the War, details how the Veterans Administration health care system is “underfunded and overwhelmed,” calling it a crisis that will continue to grow.

Along with mourning the dead and ending this bloody war, we must fight like hell for the living.