Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

In the not-too-distant past, my Dad and his two oldest brothers served in WWII-Pacific Theatre. His two younger brothers served in Korea. My husband served in Viet Nam. His father and two uncles served in WWII, one saw combat in Italy. An Aunt was a medical worker in Viet Nam. None were drafted, all were voluntary enlistments. These close family members represent Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. They all served overseas during times of war. Every minute they spent during those years is one minute longer than Bush or Cheney or any other of our current chickenhawk leaders or their children did when their time came.

Our current war involvement has been so sanitized that we are not even allowed to see the dead. But this is what memorial day means to me -- a chance to reflect on the war dead, the lives they would've had if war had not intervened. I will be spending Memorial Monday at our local war memorial touching the 20th century names from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, all etched on cold hard granite slabs. It is the centerpiece of our cemetary. I will be thinking about the big blank slab of granite that stands next to them, the one waiting to receive the 21st century names of the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan. When that slab is finally carved with names is when we will finally be allowed to honor them, because it will mean those wars are over.

Here is Norah Jones, singing a sultry American Anthem (5-minutes):


Since none of my family has ever really talked about their war experiences, I am left with war movies to try and understand their experience. Here is my short-list of some Classic "War" Movies: Slaughterhouse Five, Catch-22, Dr. Strangelove, Johnny Got His Gun, M*A*S*H, and Apocalypse Now. (note: some of these links are videos). Each of these has helped me to understand different aspects of war. It seems to require some distance in time before a definitive movie can be made about any particular war. If I seem conflicted, it's because I am. Just because war is truly a failure of diplomacy, it does not mean that some wars aren't justified.

The author of Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut, after being released from a German P.O.W. camp, found himself on a troop ship coming back to America. He asked a fellow soldier, "So what did you learn from all this?" ... The soldier replied, "Never to believe your own government".

To our current military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, I would like to apologize for our commander-in-chief. Hang on. We are working hard on getting you a better one soon, one that will be bringing you back home to us. Every single one of you, whole and sound.

24 comments:

Utah Savage said...

I'm writing to thank you for your kind advise on linking. I have written a post about why this isn't working for me. I think it is illness related--an excuse perhaps? But I will get there eventually. I'll be back to read your post, but for mow, I'm going to eat something and lie down for awhile.

DivaJood said...

Great post, and similar experiences, chica. My father never spoke about his experiences in WWII. Ever. They were the silent generation.

Fran said...

Ok DK- that song & video you posted has me in tears.
You did a good job here covering the range of thoughts & feelings about war. Always a great respect for those who served, such great sadness for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, coupled with anger & angst at the profiteers & power mongers who abuse the use of troops by using them as pawns in their war games.
While they debate in marble & sanitized halls, these men & women, often children, really are sent to be immersed in the horrors of war.

We honor & appreciate the soldiers who lived, died & were wounded- physically & mentally, often to get under cared for by the government who asked them to put their lives on the line.

Thanks too for the added note that we are working on getting relief & getting them out of harms way, and fighting to make sure they
get the best care & support when they do return home.

Utah Savage said...

God what a beautiful Memorial Day post. I completely agree with your movie and book choices to understand the war experience. Catch 22 is my favorite of the bunch. I think that and Slaughterhouse Five are must reading for anyone getting ready to join the Armed Forces and go off to have an adventure.

Cart said...

You have already conceded the importance of my ANZAC Day, a balance between remembrance, never again and gung ho.
I just want to share the positive thoughts for these important days. I grew up with so many old soldiers, well even my contemporaries with Viet Nam. My memories of the people are precious, even if I despise the events.
You did good!

D.K. Raed said...

UT S: I found both C-22 & SH5 excellent movies but absolutely fantastic books. I think they should be required high school reading. Hope you figure out/solve your daily tiredness. Surely glucose must be part of all the testing you've had done?

Diva:
If he's in the mood, I can get my Dad to talk about the troop transport ships up the river into China, or little snippets about BBQing a pig in the Philappines ... but no real war experience info. One uncle told me how he blew out his knees paratrooping into Corregidor, but nothing about the raging battle he was parachuting into. Husband talks more, but even so, I know the real feel, the constant fear, cannot be conveyed. I think sometimes they worry if they start talking they will never be able to stop.

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
Thanks. Your sentiments mean a lot to me. I hope I treated the day with reverence and respect for what people will do for love of their fellow countrymen/women. The ones who follow pick up the pieces and move on & vow it will never happen again ... and yet it does, far too regularly.

D.K. Raed said...

Fran:
That music was used by Ken Burns in his PBS special about The War. I knew it was either Eva Cassidy or Norah Jones (their smokey voices have a similar sound to me), so I was glad to finally find it on youtube & post it. I'm so sorry it made you cry, though. Your description of the powerful war profiteers debating in marble halls is so apt. We have GOT to get these soldiers home, somehow someway & soon!

******
At the cemetary today, after we spent time at the veteran's memorial, I was wandering around & looking at all the graves, every one adorned with tons of flowers & other beautiful things. It's obviously a big weekend for people to visit the graves of loved ones. One grave off in a corner caught my eye. It had little green ceramic & plastic & glass frogs placed all around it, but no flowers. I walked over to investigate. OMG, it was a 5-month old baby who died last year on my birthday! I cannot tell you how sad that made me. The cemetary is part of a walking trail system. We kept walking, along the river, watching ducks & ducklings etc, very peaceful, but I couldn't get that little baby's grave out of my mind. Around a bend, we came upon the back side of a nursery. I went in & bought a little pink rose. When we walked back by the cemetary, I put it next to the assortment of frogs around the baby's grave, so she wouldn't be the only grave there without any flowers.

******

Cart said...

DK, yes it does happen too often. But that has more to do with who we select as leaders than it does with the front line chumps.

enigma4ever said...

really wonderful post...and that you shared your family experiences and connections.....and funny what they don't share...and yes we are left reaching for movies and books to try to better grasp it.....I love the art too....about War- my son noticed that many channels are running M*A*S*H at all hours....We have to get them home and keep McSame out of the White house.....we have too....

beautiful post...

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
no doubt about it; leaders with war on their minds generally find a way to take the country there. I know he wasn't the first or only one to say this, but EK likes to remind me he made bets in 2000 about how long it would be before we were at war in Iraq (if Bush won that is, and well, that IS another story). He made these bets with repubs, no dem takers.

Enigma:
thanks, I was really at a loss for WHAT to say! I wish I had more to share; I think it would healthier to talk about it. I can never see M*A*S*H too much. It was groundbreaking in so many ways. Most people understood at the time that it was really about Vietnam, although technically set in Korea. The M*A*S*H link in my post goes to a Robert Altman interview where he talked a bit about actor rebellion on the set. Apparently more than a few of them didn't really get it or him & thought he was trying to wreck their careers.

enigma4ever said...

DK:::
you did great..and gave us great thoughtfood...My GreatUncle ( my grandfather's bother- Stu went to War- helped free the Camps....and he was never ever the same...I am pretty sure he had PTSD...so we could not talk to him as kids...he drove his son - who was drafted to Canada...so that taught us alot...) Meanwhile my other cousin, went to Vietnam flew helicopters...and came home and crashed while teaching in Florida...on Thanksgiving...so my childhood dialogues on War were mostly shaped by WHAT we could not talk about...by Silence..then as a teenager..M*A*S*H came on TV....( this was after the movie)....We got very lucky, one of my classmates- her Dad was one of the Surgeons- a real MASH surgeon that consulted on the movie...he came and spoke to us ( and taught us how to make a Still ) and then arranged for us to have a Private Showing at Hopkins University...and ask some stars some questions ( they had TV show stars and also some of the stars of the Movie...) most of us were too shy and starstuck to ask Good Questions....BUT I do remember it was the first time I ever heard a Live discussion on the Vietnam War and War in general ( this was the early 70's).....I was very grateful to that show for helping with that...

Cart said...

DK, EK would not have taken me on that one either. Now if he had of added the potential for an Iran mission, later on, I would have jumped at that.

D.K. Raed said...

Enigma:
I cannot imagine freeing the Camps. Think how young your Great Uncle would've been, just a kid himself. I'm sure they didn't really prepare the soldiers for what they would be seeing/dealing with. Maybe no one really knew what to expect. I don't know HOW someone deals with that, the shock of human skeletons and cruelty beyond belief.

It was good you had some people with real war experience come talk to your high school. Kinda reminds me of another movie, "Coming Home" with Jon Voight and Jane Fonda -- the scene where Jon as a wheelchair vet goes to tell the students how awful it is. At first the students are all gung-ho, but by the time he's done, they are shocked & thoughtful -- even the recruiters that accompanied him were teary-eyed.

But, yes, I guess making a Still is a required field surgeon skill (bet you thought you'd sneak that one by me)!

Cart:
That sounds like you did NOT think we would be trying to get into Iran, too? Because I have to say, I really thought we'd be going in there during the Reagan years, after the hostages were released. I still wonder what held him back. Certainly not credible military thinkers. So knowing how much all our repub leaders want to outdo Reagan, maybe Iran is inevitable? One more reason to make sure McCain is not allowed anywhere near the White House.

Fran said...

It's not your fault the song evoked sadness, so no need to apologize....if any of us really got past the Memorial day sales, etc and really gave any thought about those who have endured wars & fought, were injured, or died, it is incredibly sad and somber.
Dada posted the numbers on his blog. Whoah!

enigma4ever said...

DK:::
WEll, the thing about my Uncle Stu- who btw was a favorite of mine,....I loved him to pieces..he was 18 when he joined up...and the thing about the camps...he said very little...but he did say that it was NOT what they expected...and that the smell really got him...( for example he would not and would not ever go to BBQ's, burnt food of any kind would make him throw up...I always remembered that.....even when I was a newly wed and we would have him for dinner- he still was sensitive to smells - and that was 40 years later...He was Not quite right- some of my relatives made fun of him, I didn't...there was something sweet, fragile about him...he came home and was a farmer, and raised Holly and Christmas Trees....he had a real thing for animals- they were the only thing that helped him...he had a herd of Hound dogs and ducks......and he was wonderful to kids...we found his WWII truck under his bed...being snoopy kids...that is the one and ONLY time that he talked about the Germany....and yes, you are dead right...he said that he was not ready...and that he could not have been ready ..he also talked about how they made the Village people come and see the camp....( this was about 1969 when he talked about it...he still got upset...)"HOW the hell did they not know- how could they let that go on right down the street"......

About the MASH movie - we were about 12 or 13- and the BIG deal was it was rated R, so we got a special viewing and screening- the amazing thing was that we could never have been allowed to go to the Theater...but to be able to ask Questions and Talk In the Open, Publicly about Vietnam...without Parents or Teachers shhh'ing us....it was really memorable.....

enigma4ever said...

ooops I meant WWII Trunk..( not truck)...it had photos, and Nazi memorabalia..we were very unclear HOW they got that...and I never did ask...the photos- were in a book- and the AFTER photos , after they went to the camp- they were so haunted looking....

Anyways...about 3 years later is when his son recived the Draft notice...and Stu said - NO...that none of his children were going to war- that enough was enough..his son Hal- my cousin wanted to be a VET or pediatrician...so he drove him to Canada....and I did not see him again ..for 20 years...( and yes, he became a Doctor)....but it was those couple of years that really split the family to shreds...and then there I am all of 12 spouting my Anti War and Nixon is a crook stuff....at a Repug table ...and by then Stu did not come to Family events....I would have to beg and plead to go see him....but you are right it was not really about Vietnam- it was about WWII....he never healed...

Cart said...

Funny those uncles - of another generation. I often wish I had the courage to adopt my second as my first - Lyell.
That was the name of my favourite wartime (WW11 uncle.) He served in North Africa, Tobruk. He was a truck driver and the only story were ever heard was about him driving nearly 24 hours in a column with a dead man beside him.
But he was always a loner, though a caring uncle in a joking sort of way. Thinking about people like this, ones who would never wish their experiences on others, is the power I get from these special days.

enigma4ever said...

Cart:::
that is so sweet...and that you treasured him..and his experience...wow..

D.K. Raed said...

Fran:
wait, there were SALES this weekend? It is always amazing how capitalism will use every opportunity to boost profits. I guess some people have those stimulus rebates just burning a hole in their pockets.

Cart:
Your uncle was a special kind of man. And of course, as you know, being a loner does not mean that you don't care.

D.K. Raed said...

Enigma:
I cannot even imagine the smell. I once saw a BBC special, actual footage of one of those small towns where the soldiers drug the citizens out to see what had been going on right beneath their noses. There is NO WAY they did not know. They CHOSE not to see the ash or smell the crematoriums. It was brutal.

But I notice as fragile or damaged as your uncle was, he retained the very strong belief that his son should NOT have to go through what he did, and so he did what he had to do to make sure his son was safe. He was thinking rationally no matter what the rest of the family thought.

And OMG, I can just picture you speaking up at the family dinners about Tricky Dicky! Isn't it funny how the fog of youth, the unconcerned days of play, suddenly give way in an instant, and you SEE SO CLEARLY everything that the adults around you are trying to ignore?

enigma4ever said...

I did not see pictures until this year...I was really struck...the photos he had were of him and his buddies ( the before and after)..and strange things....like piles of shoes....and glasses...He was very sensitive...He married this wonderful woman Annie....a good Kentucky woman that was dirt poor and barely survived the Depression- I think that she had lived such an impoverished life..and that she appreciated ALL little things, like the First Peach...or that she let him let the Hounds lose in the Pool ( yes...and with the ducks...)...and that she loved that he raised Christmas Trees...she used to say she would love to give him Christmas every day.....

And yes, I was awful...relentless....I would just ask Questions...usually right in the middle of the meal..." Why is he a Crook? " " Why doesn't he end the War?" groans...My grandfather turning BEET red....

DivaJood said...

DK, my dad never talked about it. And I know he didn't see combat, he was a Quartermaster who was stationed in the UK, his unit supplied the D-Day invasion.

He died in 1996, and frankly, I am glad he didn't live long enough to see the last eight years of this fiasco of an administration.

D.K. Raed said...

Diva, I've had the same thought about my mom who died in '97.