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Memorial Day | Above and Beyond

libraries personal May 31, 2021

I know today, Memorial Day, here in the United States, has gotten abstracted into the day to BBQ. I'm very pro-BBQ.

When I actually *realize* it is a holiday (perils of self-employment), I always think of this memorial, Above and Beyond, installed at Harold Washington Public Library, our glorious central library here in Chicago.

When you take the escalators up to the 3rd floor, the main level up to the stacks, you see this sea of dog tags.

58,307 dog tags.

Every one of them stamped with the name of a person who died, the date they died and the branch they served in.

It chokes me up every time I see it.

My dad was a Vietnam vet. He was a helicopter mechanic in the Army. I can recall exactly 2 stories he ever shared. He never talked about it otherwise. He was "lucky" to serve alongside his older brother. They got the nicknames AK-51 (Uncle Richard), and AK-47 (Robert, my dad). From their names *A*gerbec*K.*

In this memorial hangs a single black dog tag to represent all the service people who died from conditions related to their service.

My dad was one of those people. Early May 2017, he died by suicide. You never know exactly what goes into this decision to end one's life. Something (not) happening with the VA was one part of my dad's hopelessness.

Whether his life ended this way or it ended some other way, there is zero doubt, his service in Vietnam irrevocably changed him.

I'm not shy about talking about my estrangement from my Dad.

In my mid-20's, I decided I wasn't going to try to make sense of him or put up with how he treated me. Always worth adding that he and my sister had a very different relationship.

I guess as the older daughter who shared his talents, I was the one who was supposed to do what he didn't do for himself.

I can still respect his service, and the service of much of the Agerbeck men. I can acknowledge the trauma he experienced and how it changed him. I can't feel how lost he felt in his final weeks, and the tumult he was going through. I can mourn his potential that was lost.

Potential lost after he served. Lost when he started drinking around the time he left the Army when I was about 4. Lost when his life ended in 2017.

Deaths in combat may be a pebble hitting water. There are so many ripples out from that and how war harms and kills humans.


Sending love to all who have served, who have been lost, and all the friends and families surrounding them.


More about the memorial, Above and Beyond, created by artist Rick Steinbock, and veteran artists Ned Broderick, Joe Fornelli and Mike Helbing.

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