What did you say?

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Memorial Weekend is soon to be upon us once again. As I sit here thinking about what would make for an interesting article, I am interrupted many times by co-workers as they go about their business of helping families, and quite often the first thing from my mouth is “What did you say?”

With Google at my fingertips, I found out that the loudest sound possible is 194dB (decibels), and that means nothing until you compare familiar sounds and how the decibels stack up. For instance, normal conversation comes in at 60-65dB. A power mower registers 107dB while loud rock concerts attack our eardrums at 115dB. A jet engine? At 100 feet, the decibel rating is 140dB. Starting at 0 dB, a sound 10 times more powerful is 10dB. 20dB is 100 times more powerful than total silence, 30dB a 1,000 times louder than absolute silence etc. Put into proper perspective, a jet engine is a trillion times more powerful than 0 dB.     A single shot from a .357 magnum hits 165dB for 2 milliseconds. According to those who measure such things, that is the equivalent of 40 hours exposure in a noisy workplace.

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The point to all of these numbers is to offer a different perspective to the effects of war on veterans, and on our current uniformed heroes serving in all corners of the globe. How is this for exposure to dangerous noise levels? An M16 from the Vietnam war comes in at 156dB, a Howitzer at 189dB and a claymore mine at 146dB.

We have seen war movies, from Here to Eternity to Saving Private Ryan to Deer Hunter to The Green Berets. These films are visually engrossing and graphic in their depiction of war. They are loud, with some “war type” movies averaging 80-90dB with the occasional 120dB snuck in past the regulators.

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Blah, blah, blah…come on Dan, you are losing me here!

Real life war is nothing like the movies. Real life war, and in particular, real life battle scenes, do not have a starting time and an ending time. Real life war rips apart bodies. Real life war kills…it kills bodies and it kills minds. The sounds of war haunt those who fought every bit as much as the images burnt into their brains. The explosions and gunfire and bombs and crackling of napalm sear images and impulses into the very heart of survivors that never go away. To see a broken and torn body is horrific, but just as horrific is the screaming of a buddy…the begging for help…the cries for relief from the pain.

Unmistakable souds of a Huey helicopter in Vietnam

Unmistakable sounds of a Huey helicopter in Vietnam

Sound is essential to the success of any kind of movie. The music tracks, the street sounds, the screeching of tires and busted glass, or a baby’s first cry – all add to the experience. How many times have you been taken back to a time in your life, good or bad, by the triggering melody of a particular song?

My point to this article and to the semi-scientific comparison of decibels is a plea for patience when talking with war vets. It is possible that some of those tremendously loud days caused deterioration in one’s ability to hear. So when Dad or Granddad, or Brother or Sister says “What?” forgive them. We don’t like to have to ask what you said any more than you want to repeat yourself. When they turn the TV up louder than you may like, it is not to annoy you but to let them hear dialogue.

Please, Dan, turn the TV down a few decibels...

Please, Dan, turn the TV down a few decibels…

A song can cause memory flashbacks to all of us. To those who spent time in a real battle of survival, whether in the jungles of Vietnam, the mountains of Korea, the bombed out cities of Europe or in the desserts of the mid-East, a simple firecracker can stir up emotions that they tried to spend years burying deep in the recesses of their minds. A cry for help when you cannot help burns itself into one’s soul. And when the plea is loud enough to be heard over, not one, but dozens and sometimes hundreds of M16’s and AK47’s and grenades and mortars pounding all around you, well….you can only imagine.

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Real life battles do not end with popcorn boxes at your feet, empty soda cups, and credits rolling on a screen as the lights slowly come on. Real life battles end when everyone is dead or captured, or when you run out of ammunition and you disappear back into the jungle or the cityscape. And even then, even for those still standing with nary a scratch, their wounds of the heart and mind scar so deeply that only a final breath somewhere in their future can offer real relief.

By way, it’s the incoming that you don’t hear that tends to kill you!

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If you are still reading this article, it was meant to cause you to be a little uncomfortable. I once read a quote that for those who fight for it; freedom has a flavor that the protected will never know. Almost every family has a vet as a relative, or knows a family who has been touched by war. As peace loving as we are in America, there have not been too many years in our short history that did not include someone shooting someone someplace. So, my real purpose for writing today is to set you to thinking when you are having your hot dogs, and going to the beach, and having family picnics when Memorial Weekend officially opens the summer season.

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What I would really love to see is a sacrifice from every family of giving up one hour over the upcoming long weekend to come to Calumet Park Cemetery on May 24th at 1:00 when Calumet Park joins with the American Legion 1st District as we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. See you there. Call 219-769-8803 for details.

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