Last Monday, Americans observed Memorial Day. Or did we?

Some people flew flags (Carolyn and I did not) or went to special sites such as veterans cemeteries and memorials (we did in neighboring Presidio National Park). I suspect such observances were more common in the Heartland. 

I also suspect that to the majority of Americans, Memorial Day remains what it has long been—the start of the summer season marked by travel, stays at the beach or the lake, barbecues and the consumption of a great many six-packs or assorted beverages. 

Not to mention taking advantage of retail sales.

Memorial Day for me starts and ends thanking the men and women who lost their lives in military service to the nation. Given the nature of some of our wars, gratitude challenges some folks. The author Phil Klay, a marine veteran who served in Iraq, grappled with the issue in an opinion piece for the New York Times, “What Do I Owe the Dead of My Generation’s Mismanaged Wars?” (5-25-24). Klay raged against unjust wars but acknowledged the matter’s complexity. Most important: “I will remember why they died. All the reasons they died. Because they believed in America. Because America forgot about them.” 

The good, the bad and the ugly certainly mark American foreign policy.

During my time in the Army (1966-69), I came to see the Vietnam War as mistaken and unwinnable. My fraternity brother Howie Schnabolk flew Army medevac helicopters whisking away the wounded and dead from battlefields. He wrote me that the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army were “kicking the ass” of the 101stAirborne Division.

No dig at the Screaming Eagles. But the VC and NVA were on their home turf with nowhere to go. Washington had failed to understand that the Communists under Ho Chi Minh (I wasn’t a fan) hated the Chinese (Red China). 

We could have established relations with Ho in the 1950s, but red-blooded, anti-Red American conservatives took that option off the table. In 1967, Howie was shot down and killed. Lyndon Johnson pushed on with the war, in great part because of pressure from the American right. Richard Nixon promised to end the war in 1968. He terminated our participation only after his re-election in 1972. 

Thursday evening, I’ll give an author’s talk at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. I’ll have remembered the troops who lost their lives on D-Day 80 years before. I owe them an immense debt. 

The next nine weeks will evoke many memories. Tomorrow marks the birth of my father Morris in Warsaw 121 years ago. He died in mid-June 1983. Late June marks my parents’ 88th wedding anniversary and, 67 years ago, my bar-mitzvah.

July and August bring the birthdays of two of my children, Seth and Yosi, and my own. Also that of my beloved great aunt Anne Horowitz. And of my brother-in law Herb Zaks. Also the anniversary of Herb’s death. August 1 marks the anniversary of my mother’s death, August 3 Howie’s.

Regarding the killing and wounding of our military personnel, we can pray for peace and that war be just. We also can make our voices heard. That said, we have no guarantee of success.

One certainty: We possess the power to remember—not just on Memorial Day but throughout the year.

Please pass on this post. 

I’ll be interviewed by Rabbi George Altshuler about TAKING STOCK and also LITTLE NED this Thursday, June 6, 7pm at Congregation Sherith Israel, San Francisco. If you can, do come by.

Order my new novel, TAKING STOCK (Kirkus Reviews starred selection) in softcover or e-book from Amazonbarnesandnoble.com or iuniverse.com. Or from your favorite bookstore.


  1. Ronald Eaton on May 31, 2024 at 12:32 pm

    David, I did fly the flag on Memorial Day. I’m always disappointed to see how few flags fly in San Francisco: as though the more conservative—even MAGA—side of our national politics has captured the flag. No one should surrender the flag to somebody else’s politics. It belongs to all of us. RWE

    • David Perlstein on May 31, 2024 at 12:38 pm

      Very true, Ron. It is, indeed, our flag, too.

  2. Linda Connelly on May 31, 2024 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks for this Dave. I also went to the Cemetery at the Presidio and read the incredibly powerful words of the poet Archibald MacLeish – The Young Dead Soldiers Do not Speak” poem etched in stone at the top of the cemetery. We need to remember these words every day. I will now think of dear Howie as well.

    Linda Connelly

    • David Perlstein on May 31, 2024 at 1:50 pm

      Linda: Carolyn and I went to the Navy/Coast Guard/Airmen memorial overlooking the Golden Gate. It’s an annual walk from our house. And thanks for your kind remark about Howie.

  3. jesse Fink on May 31, 2024 at 4:16 pm

    Thankyou for writing this.

    • David Perlstein on May 31, 2024 at 4:50 pm

      You’re more than welcome, Jesse.

Leave a Comment