For the Mothers and the Fathers, the Sisters and the Brothers

Image: Graves at Arlington National Cemetery, public domain.

It’s Memorial Day here in the USA, and I am cranky.

This is the day we remember our brothers and sisters who died in the wars. I honor every one of them. I am grateful that of those I have loved who have served our country, all came home in one piece – well, in more or less one piece. As my better half, Linda, said this morning, no one who sees combat is ever really the same again.

She should know. She served in the Navy during Vietnam as a drug and alcohol counselor. She was a sailor on a landlocked base (how surreal is that?) trying to help those who returned stateside with a problem.

Our son joined the Navy on his 21st birthday. I was on the other side of the world, in Jerusalem, and called to wish him a happy birthday. He was all excited about his news, and I kept my voice as calm as I could. This was during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and the writing was pretty much on the wall. The idea of my baby in a war, in a stupid, stupid war, was almost more than I could bear. As things worked out, he didn’t go to war, but as far as I knew that day, he was headed straight into it. I was proud of him and I was terrified.

All soldiers in every war are somebody’s baby. They might be big and strong and capable with weapons, but they are each beloved of someone. My heart today, Memorial Day, aches for the mamas and the fathers and the sisters and the brothers. I ache for the girlfriends and the boyfriends and the family pets. I ache for everyone who remembers someone they loved who will never grow older.

And I am angry – deeply angry – at anyone who dares to sell those precious lives  cheaply. Saying “I support the troops” is nothing; it’s lip service. Sending other people’s children into war when yours aren’t going is about as low a thing as anyone ever did. And yes, I know, great men have done it: Abraham Lincoln tried to keep his son out of the Civil War, to name just one. That doesn’t make it right.

I don’t want to hear about how “they are all volunteers, so it’s OK.” Aaron was, yes, but the vast majority of young men and women who go into the military in this country do so because it’s their best option, because college has been priced out of their means. The only way I will accept that our Congress and the Executive Branch can send our young people to war will be if all their kids have to go, too.

That was part of my experience in Israel: when I was completely shaken by Aaron’s news, Israeli parents would put an arm around me and hug me. They told me to be proud, that I had raised a good man. And I knew those weren’t cheap words, because they had served, and their children would serve. And I was consoled, not because some idiot in a suit “supported the troops” but because those men and women understood.

Today, Linda and I remembered those who died. It’s not a weekend for barbecues and celebration at our house; it’s quiet. It’s the day I count my blessings, because all my loved ones are home. It’s the day I think of all those who miss someone who will never come home again.

It’s the day I pray that Isaiah’s vision will someday come true:

[God] shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:4

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “For the Mothers and the Fathers, the Sisters and the Brothers”

  1. Beautifully written Rabbi Adar. I count my blessings each day that my sons have decided to go on to universities, knowing that they will have a lifetime of student loans.
    I pray for the safety of our children and they come home safely.
    My son will be traveling to Israel next month on Birthright (he’s 19) and I pray for his safety as well.

  2. My sentiments, exactly. Thank you for expressing so eloquently exactly how I feel about this. I’ve been cranky since Vietnam — another bogus war that decimated my generation….over 50,000 of my generation eliminated and countless more permanently injured….and for what? So thank you for your words and thoughts — spot on!

  3. Thank you for your frank discussion – as I agree. I’m terrified to think my 12 yr old son might some day choose to go into the military.Its not just that he could be sent to war and not come home, but if he did go to war and came home with a disability. Our nation doesn’t value those who (have) serve(d) and its disgusting. The injuries our soldiers come home with today, would not have been survived in the past. The traumatic brain injuries, amputations, PTSD, burns… aside from the loss of homes while they were deployed…what is wrong with us…how can the US say they are proud but do nothing?

    It breaks my heart… war is not the answer… but for those who do go into the line of fire, we need to do better!

  4. And that’s not to even bring up the widening disparity of wealth forcing our children to make decisions that those with more means wouldn’t have to consider… disgusting… better, we need to do better!

  5. Vietnam was the stupid war that decimated my parents’ generation. My father bears the emotional wounds, utterly silently but you know they are there. In his generation they had to change out of their uniforms at the airport to keep peaceniks from spitting on them (bizarrely – they were drafted and jailed if they didn’t go, why weren’t the politicians the ones getting spit on?). Vietnam was an awful, brutal, nonsensical war, and soldiers and families are still paying the price.

    This current crop of stupid wars decimated my generation – deaths from combat and suicide – and left the remainder haunted by PTSD from what they saw and had done to them – from the other side, and fellow soldiers. Maimed from IEDs. Families ripped apart by multiple deployments. VA care hard to come by, and psych care lacking when back home, with many turning to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. I was lucky in the number/length of deployments my husband had, but the fear permeated everything, and most military families were not so lucky.

    I see people writing that our freedom and fun is bought by their deaths, and it makes me cranky too. Really? The last time war that was true was WW2. We’ve just been flushing our soldiers down the toilet lately. How is our world safer since we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer seems to be less safe, and that we may have even created the stewpot in which ISIS/ISIL grew and got strong. In which case, way less safe.

    I support the troops too, and clearly think they’re a far more previous resource than hawkish politicians do.

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