It was the late ’60s and the country was changing unlike any other time in history. Love them or not, everyone knew of the Beatles, flower power, drugs and parents not knowing what to do about their kids with their long hair and big ideas on what was wrong with the world.
Flags were being burned and protests against the war in Vietnam were on the front pages of newspapers in big and small towns across America while some of the youth of the nation crossed into Canada to avoid the draft.
This is not their story. This is my story (Daniel Moran – in photo). I am from a very small town in upstate New York. Patriotism was served up with mom’s apple pie and 4th of July was a day of celebration, fireworks and hot dogs gobbled up as if there was a ticket to heaven for whoever ate the most.
One of my brothers had just come back from Vietnam when I was a freshman in college. As I looked at pictures of him holding a machine gun with a bandoleer of bullets crisscrossing his chest while in the jungles of ‘Nam and I looked at his medals, I thought I would do a lot better there than in an economics class I had to attend three days a week.
The professor seemed to overemphasize the word “propensity” to the point of my deciding to chance dying from a possible sniper’s shot to the head in Vietnam than die from the absolute boredom of that professor’s words.
I joined the army and left my family of seven siblings, five step-siblings, mother and stepfather behind and got myself, as the army instructors of the time put it, “all trained up to go kill me some gooks” and ready to win more medals than my brother did.
During my first weeks in ‘Nam, when real bullets were hitting real people, and real bodies on both sides were being torn apart, I realized the war games back in the states were nothing like the raw reality of living the real thing.
I was introduced to physical pain, mental anguish, utter loneliness and moments of sheer terror that cannot be understood or appreciated except by those who have been in a war or who have been splattered with the blood and brains of a buddy.
In the words of Lebanese writer and scholar Kahlil Gibran, “You haven’t lived until you have almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a meaning that the protected will never know.”
At the time I was to come home after a year of suffering through unbelievable humidity, heat, mosquitoes almost big enough to shoot with an M15 and as George W. might say, ‘numb-ified’ from long periods of boredom splashed with moments of pure anxiety, atrocity and absolute brutality, I did some simple math and discovered something. If I were to extend my tour of duty by six months, I would be able to keep a younger brother from having to go to war.
At the end of a six month extension for me, he would have had only eleven months left of his military obligation, which was not enough time for him to have to go ‘Nam as a tour of duty required a 12 month stay. I did this for only one reason , war truly is hell and I did not see how my brother’s life would be enhanced in any way if he got to go shoot people… or worse, for him to be shot and killed.
Now, 38 years later (wow, am I that old?) I work at Calumet Park Cemetery in Merrillville. As a guest speaker last February, I was challenged by a number of Commanders of American Legions at their monthly meeting to do something for veterans.
Although we have a veteran section with a huge monument as a feature announcing the section as a place of honor, I realized they were right. Funeral homes and cemeteries in this region do not really do all that much for the individual veteran.
In talking with our board of directors, we all sat around as though we were like deer in a headlight as we realized that the commanders were right. The time was now to do something for all the honorably discharged veterans that ever donned a military uniform for the United States of America.
With Veteran’s Day just around the corner, I wanted to invite all veterans to do yourselves a favor and explore all of the benefits that Calumet Park Cemetery is offering as a way of saying thank you for being a vet, and thank you for supporting those in your families who sacrificed, along with you, to ensure our democracy.
This Memorial Day program needs to be supported by all of the communities in the region. Since the closest Veteran’s National Cemetery is not convenient to anyone who lives in Lake or Porter counties, you owe it to yourselves to look into all that is being offered to you at great financial loss to Calumet Park Cemetery with our honorable discharged vet program (free grave, free installation of your government marker, deep savings on funeral services, vaults, caskets and opening/closings).
However, we are able to function as a privately owned business , 83 years and counting with the same families as owners and operators , because of all the efforts and sacrifice of all of our veterans, along with the continued loyalty of all the families who have let us take care of them during their times of loss. This is Calumet Park Cemetery and Funeral Chapel’s way of giving back.