The sad reality is that Americans have forgotten how to honor their war heroes and to remember their war dead. As “Bing” West observed several years ago in his remarkable book about Fallujah, No True Glory, stories of soldierly courage deserve “to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die.”
The posture Americans took toward Memorial Day started to go awry with Vietnam. The press, if not the American people, began to treat soldiers as moral monsters, victims, or both. The “dysfunctional Vietnam vet” became a staple of popular culture. Despite the fact that atrocities were rare, My Lai came to symbolize the entire war. Thanks to the press’s preoccupation with the anomaly of My Lai, Lt. William Calley became the poster boy for Vietnam. The honorable and heroic performance of the vast majority of those who served in Vietnam went largely unrecognized.