A few nights ago I decided to watch a movie that had had a profound effect on me back in the 70s. I doubt many people saw it in the theater because it only played for about one week and then was either banned, or perhaps canceled because of poor attendance. Melinda downloaded it before she left, at my request, and since we had some young volunteers here I invited them to watch it with me. They didn’t appreciate it all and left after only a few scenes. I don’t hold it against them however… the movie is not very entertaining and in fact rather depressing all the way through.

The story is about a young boy who goes to war because he feels it is the right thing to do. I won’t tell you the whole story here because some of you may want to see the movie for yourself. While in battle his squad is given the job of pulling the dead body of a comrade off of some barbed wire. When they have finished the job and buried him properly they begin heading back to the trenches but before they can get back, a mortar makes a direct hit on the group. Johnny awakens but is unable to communicate… that is when he realizes that not only has he lost his arms and legs but his nose, mouth, eyes, and ears are also gone… his wounds render him a prisoner in his own body. The doctors, believing him to be technically dead, decide to keep his body alive for observation and study… but all Johnny wants to do is die.

It was a low budget film that came out in the 70s, in protest of the war in Vietnam. Had I not just recently returned from the war and were it not for my working in the Inhalation Therapy Department at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where I had clearance to visit the “Vegetable Ward” where those who would never recover were kept hidden from public view, the movie probably would not have had much of an effect on me either… but seeing it brought back all of the images I had filed away in my head while trying to re-enter a normal life.

It is easy to remember the dead on Memorial Day… a few cut flowers or maybe a plant, some nice words about how things could have been, if only… a ride back home for a picnic dinner and beers with friends and family, and then back to work as usual. The reality is however that for many families the war still rages on and the death of their loved one would be such a blessing… but it doesn’t come, and the agony of waiting for nothing to happen becomes almost unbearable.

War is a terrible thing and needs to be stopped… but because the ugliest parts of it are hidden from our view, it is easy to become calloused to it. Isn’t it time we pick open the scab and let the real story begin to ooze out? Honoring those who have died is great… but spending time with the families of those who have given up their life but have been denied death would be even greater.

Johnny Got His Gun is the name of the film… and I would encourage everyone to watch it, now that the party is over.

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