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Memorial Day used to be a very big event in my little hometown. My mother would sell poppies and my dad and the other vets would don uniforms and march from the high school to the cemetery and fire off a salute to all the guys they knew who didn't come back from the war. Meanwhile, we'd hover nearby and fight over their shell casings, thinking their white spats, white helmets and white belts were really cool, even if we were too young to know why some of them might have a tear in their eye.

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I was not part of a generation that got drafted, so I couldn't begin to comprehend the magnitude of being snatched away from your life, shipped off to a foreign land and shot at for years like my dad and uncles were. And since learning about World War II from them was like pulling an aching tooth from a hungry rhinoceros in heat, I had to find out whatever I could on my own. But I do know that one of my uncles got to revisit his bouts with malaria a lot more often than he wanted to. And I even remember being told, at the time of his death, that one of my grandmother's brothers, a World War I veteran, was never the same after he was exposed to nerve gas. Still, they did all come home in one piece, got married and had kids like me to give them ulcers. Except it's them that I'd like us to focus on this Memorial Day and I'll tell you why.

Over the years I've learned only bits and pieces about the war from my dad and usually at a most unexpected time. For example, a couple of years ago we were watching a WWII documentary and when they showed footage of Paris being liberated he suddenly blurted out, "I was there the next day." Now that may not seem like much to you. But to me and in comparison to everything else he hasn't told us, it was nothing short of a revelation.

Another time he mentioned that he was really struck by the vibrant colors he was exposed to upon his return to the United States; since colors apparently stood out to him after seeing nothing but olive green for four years or as long as it takes most of us to obtain a high school or college degree. It's these little tidbits that you have to put together like a puzzle, in hopes of someday getting a bigger picture.

Right now there is a young soldier from my little hometown who's on his fourth tour in Iraq. Rather than working at a desk job in some air conditioned office he's out in the field finding those funny little explosives the so called insurgents like to hide here, there and everywhere.

I talked to this young soldier's dad the night before he left and wish I could come close to describing the look I saw in his eyes as he contemplated saying goodbye to his boy one more time. Because, while looking at me, he didn't seem to see me and what he was seeing, I don't know, but whatever it was looked to be disconcerting, especially for a man who'd already served in Iraq himself.

Still the most compelling stories about war that you'll ever hear are forever seared into the memory of Dave Logosz who resides in Dickinson. His Vietnam experiences are as compelling, surreal and haunting as any that exist in any war and I haven't got enough space in this column or in three books to come close to telling them to you in the kind of vivid detail that his mind remembers them.

But I can tell you that Logosz was a sniper in Vietnam who was dropped into hostel zones for long periods of time and during one of those missions "dispatched" 43 enemy soldiers in 47 days. And just so you get a feel for the man, he has three purple hearts for wounds received and could have a lot more for wounds he never reported.

Rather than a hero he views himself as a survivor, which might be more of an accomplishment post war than it was mid war, especially since he's carrying around the images of 75 or more friends who were killed before his eyes, even more images of others who were wounded and literally hundreds of memories of enemy soldiers that he killed.

And now he averages two or three nightmares a week with all of the sights, sounds and smells returning to him in excruciatingly intimate detail with one dream in particular, of Carl Berger from Mandan, who was picked off by an enemy sniper 15 feet away from him on April 25, 1970, headlining the nightmarish barrage.

We've all heard the saying "War is Hell" but after talking to Logosz I can tell you that this simple saying is about as beige as calling WWII a unfortunate misunderstanding, the Challenger explosion a fuel leak and the World Trade Center collapse and annihilation a structural problem.

Imagine having to drag NVA body after body to a big pile after an enemy "human wave attack," watching the pile being doused with hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel hauled in by helicopters and then having the sight of it all it burned into your memory from that day to beyond eternity.

Dave Logosz says that war is more than hell because it takes you to hell and keeps you there as long as it can, including long after the war is over. And it takes not just him but everyone else who has ever served in war, their families and even you and me in some more indirect way.

So let's be careful not to glorify war during our Memorial Day services this year. Because doing so would be a great disservice to everyone, including those who served and died and even you and me, our children and our children's children who we hope will never have to go through the same thing.

And one more thing: Thank God for veterans.

-- Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation communications director.

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