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Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day - 2013

Portions of this text first appeared here on Stonekettle Station, Memorial Day, 2011. The wars change, the years pass, the message remains the same   //  Jim


 

 

Once again, it’s a gorgeous day here in the Alaskan Matsu.

It promises to be a beautiful Memorial Day. 

This is the day we Americans are supposed to pause for a moment and remember those who have fallen in the service of our country.

Memorial Day isn’t about honoring veterans per se, not exactly. Veterans, the living ones anyway, have their own day.

Memorial day is supposed to be about the dead, those who have fallen in military service.  Once it was called Decoration Day in honor of those who died during the American Civil War. Later the holiday became a day of remembrance for those killed in all conflicts, and today it marks the passing of all those  who died in uniform in both peace and war.

This is the day that some dutiful Americans visit the graveyards and the military cemeteries to place flowers and flags and to remember husbands and brothers and wives and mothers and sisters and sons and daughters who wore the uniform and came when called and gave the last full measure. 

For some, today is a day when we will lay the wreaths and sound the lonely trumpet and shed a tear and a salute for those comrades long gone.

It’s also a perfect day, here near my home in Alaska, for grilling out or for taking a drive in the convertible with my lovely wife or for puttering around in the woodshop with the large bay doors open – and I may do all three. 

Because you see, even though Memorial Day is nominally about honoring the dead, it’s also about celebrating life.

And on this, of all days, it’s important to remember that.

Because celebrating life is something we do far, far to little of in recent decades.

It’s been more than a decade now since those terrible days in September of 2001.

It’s been more than a decade of war and death and sacrifice. 

For our children, this most recent generation, the ones just now reaching the age of reason and awareness, they have never known an America not at war. 

They have never lived in a nation at peace.

Never.

Think about that. 

For them, this new generation, war has become so commonplace, so ubiquitous, that it’s simply business as usual. For them, war simply is, it’s just another aspect of life, like plumbing and electricity and the flow of money, invisible and all around. The dead come home from conflict invisibly, hidden, silently, returned to their grieving families in quiet ceremonies away from the public eye, unlamented and unnoticed by a nation grown jaded and bored with war.

For them, this generation, war is normal.

And their parents, those of us born in the 1960’s, we can’t tell them that they’re wrong, that war is not the normal state, that normality is peace without conflict.  See, because we grew up in a nation at war too.  By the time I was ten, America had been fighting in Southeast Asia for my entire life.  The news media was daily filled with images of blood and death, mangled and maimed soldiers, of burning helicopters and a terrifyingly incomprehensible enemy.  At home, the streets were filled with violence and unrest and it seemed that America was about to tear itself to pieces in a clash of violently opposed ideologies – because no matter how much the enemy might hate us, we hated ourselves, our neighbors, our fellow Americans, even more.

For us, war is the normal state of affairs too.

And before that it was Korea, and before that World War Two, and before that … well, the list goes back a long, long way.

There are a lot of dead to remember on this Memorial Day.

Today there are those who instead of picnicking  with their familiars, instead of working in their yards or enjoying the day, will be patrolling the dark and dangerous corners of this world.  They’re out there, right now, walking the bitter broken mountains of central Asia, standing the long watch on and below and above the seas, they’re out there in the fetid festering jungles of South America, in the dry dusty deserts of Africa, in the blistering heat of the Middle East, in lands so remote you’ve never even heard of them (and wouldn’t believe the descriptions of such places if you did), they are as far away as a cold airless orbit high above the Earth and as close as local bases in their own states.  

Some of these men and women will not live out today.

Some will most certainly come home to Dover Air Force Base in a cold steel box beneath the draped colors of the Stars and Stripes, their war over, their dreams fled.

And there are those who wear the uniform, but can no longer serve – their duty stations are the crowded and forgotten wards of military hospitals around the world. They won’t be working in the yard or grilling out today either. Some will spend the day with family, even if they are unaware of it.  Soon too their last battle will be over.

And there are those who no longer serve, no longer wear the uniform, but they still fight. They fight the nightmares of Vietnam and Beirut and Mosul and Firebase Alpha and a thousand other battlefields you’ve never heard of.   They are the walking dead, killed in action only they no longer have the wit to know it and so they haunt the streets of America, the forgotten unseen discarded ghosts of war and conflict, slowly fading away.

And, of course, there are those who no longer fight, no longer struggle, no longer remember.  They lay entombed in the soil of foreign nations, at Normandy, at Tunis, at the Ardennes, at Brookwood and Cambridge, at Flanders and Lorraine, at Manila, Mexico City, in the Netherlands, the Somme, and many other places whose names most Americans no longer remember or never knew. One hundred and twenty four thousand, nine hundred and nine American servicemen lay interred forever in twenty-four cemeteries on foreign shores and there they will stay, never to return to America.  They were the lucky ones, if you can call it luck, found and honored and laid to rest by their fellows.  Others, well, their bones are myriad and they litter the sea floor beneath all the oceans of the world or are lost in the jungles and deserts on all the world’s continents, their resting places unknown and unremembered. And here, within the boundaries of the United States, there are one hundred and forty-six national military cemeteries, and more than a million Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Guardsmen lie beneath the cold white granite.  Their battles are long, long over, even if the war still rages on.

They, all of them, came when called, some of their own free will and some not, and did their duty and no one, no one, can ask any more of them.

For them, for all of them, for those who have fallen or will fall in this lousy war, and for all those who have fallen in all the conflicts we’ve fought lo these many years, today raise a glass and give a nod towards the flag.

Remember them, if only for a moment.

 

Then enjoy your day, celebrate your precious and fragile life, because that’s why they do what they do.

53 comments:

  1. Very eloquent and, I imagine, very softly and reverently spoken. Thank you, Jim.

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  2. South Jersey DocMay 27, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Perfectly said.

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  3. "If god's on our side / He'll stop the next war."

    Celebrate life, so that we can learn it is better than death.

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  4. Thanks, Shipmate. I thought you would have something on line today for us.

    Today I am thinking of my dad. He was lucky enough to survive World War II and Korea, came home and taught high school for nearly 40 years, married and raised a family. But the fields he fought on, especially Asan Beach on Guam, were never far from his thoughts. The last several years before he died last year he thought often of the Marines who died during the liberation of Guam...his platoon had an 80% casualty rate. And now that he is gone, I remember the stories he told and think of them in his stead, not just this day, but many more throughout the year.

    We should celebrate life for those that never got to live their own. We should celebrate life because we only have the one to live.

    Thanks for reminding us today, Jim.

    Old Navy Comm O


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    1. I lived on Guam as a teenager during the mid-60s. The Liberation Day parade in July was a huge event. They never forgot what it was like to live under occupation. He is honored there.

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    2. Mary,
      Thanks for that. I was trying to get him back to Guam in 2012 with the help of a couple of friends for Liberation Day, but his health worsened and he died in March. I had heard from several folks in Guam and was so looking forward to his being able to get back. He was there in his mind often.
      And I was so touched by your tribute to your dad. He will be in my thoughts from now on when I think of Korea and so will you. Take care.
      Old Navy Comm O

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    3. And the Guam National Guard fights as well, as we type, and at the sharp end, in Afghanistan: http://gu.ng.mil/Pages/Default.aspx

      BB

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  5. Wow. Made me tear up. Seems our government always finds a reason to be fighting someone, somewhere ... And if we dwell on that, it seems like it can only lead to hopelessness and despair. We should never forget all who have served and died for us, and celebrating life does seem to me to be a wonderful way to remember them.

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    1. The government isn't the only outfit to find reasons to be fighting someone, somewhere. Just saying.

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    2. What I'm hearing lately about taking the drone program away from the CIA and giving it back to the Pentagon is something I find encouraging. The CIA's job is, after all, "protecting American economic interests overseas". Perhaps that's not the best place to be using our military.

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    3. The CIA should never have had control of weaponized drones in the first place. The CIA is an intelligence agency, use of military force should be confined to the military for many, many reasons, not the least of which is that the military is directly answerable to the citizens, the CIA is largely not.

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    4. Amen, Amen..Amen...Marilyn Ciucci

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  6. Here's remembering my father, who never came home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkpYsVkW-n4&list=PL84448C05271234AE&feature=mh_lolz

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    1. Just lovely, Mary. I'm so sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing this video. It was the perfect complement to Jim's wonderful writing.

      The Korean War Memorial in DC is one of the most beautiful and moving memorials anywhere. I was there last summer and it was the only memorial that actually made me cry.

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    2. I was at that memorial with my 10-year-old youngest son (who looks the most like his grandfather) for the 50th year of the cessation of fighting. That war isn't officially over, as we were reminded lately by the grandson of the N. Korean leader we were fighting at that time.

      Thanks, Jim, for fixing the link. I'm not much for even the most simple coding.

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    3. Thanks a lot for the song and the memories, MaryK.

      -Paul Cooper

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  7. Well said.

    Bruce

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  8. Today I think of my pop. He was different from other pops. He got burned in the Big War. He was brave and funny. He made jokes that shocked some people: "When I get tired, my face wants to sit down." He had the guts to face the dragon and became a firefighter. Today I get out the burnt, tattered remnant of his fatigue jacket (he never told me why he brought it home) and cry. Thanks, Pop. I salute you.

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  9. Love this post. Please don't publish my comment, but I just want to ask you to please fix the first line. Shouldn't "Mastsu" be "Matsu?" But, beautiful and well said. Made me cry.

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  10. Thank you, Jim. At least some of our swords are being forged into ploughshares: retired military drones are now being used to watch the environment, count bird populations, etc.:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/science/drones-offer-a-safer-clearer-look-at-the-natural-world.html?_r=0

    Warning: The Times limits your reads to 10 a month if you don't subscribe. You may want to seek this story elsewhere.

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  11. You said it better, far better, than I ever could have.

    Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Shipmate.

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  12. Goodbye, Donny. Goodbye, Brent. You made the ultimate sacrifice.

    Thanks for reminding me of this, Chief Warrant Officer.

    -Paul Cooper (former QM3/SS)

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    1. Somehow I suspect, Quartermaster, that you didn't need reminding. But I know what you mean. Fair winds, following seas.

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  13. I am thinking of the tributes made to lost comrades by the patients that transited through the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility, in Balad Iraq. I still remember taking care of the only survivor in a vehicle hit by an IED.

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  14. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.
    Ode of Rememberance

    http://idlehandsdept.blogspot.com/2012/05/memorial-day-div.html

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  15. bearsense,

    You have found a site quoting one of my favorite World War I poems. Thanks for pointing it out for us. The rest of the blog is also worth the read. The poem is one used often in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth on Remembrace Day (celebrated on 11/11, the anniversary of the armistice signed ending WW I). For anyone who wants to see the whole poem, see :

    http://allpoetry.com/poem/8528573-For_The_Fallen-by-Robert_Laurence_Binyon

    The ending is also poignant....

    As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
    Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
    As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
    To the end, to the end, they remain.

    Old Navy Comm O

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    1. Old Navy Comm O - -
      Thank you - - Bear

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  16. Mike from FairbanksMay 28, 2013 at 1:03 AM

    I sincerely THANK YOU for your years of service to the USA and its people. You continue to give of yourself in many ways, and I thank you for that too. (You keep me from getting too side-tracked. lol)

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  17. I was born into war. 1943. My Dad died at wars end when I was three.
    Everybody I knew, between the age of three and eight (real peace time) had been in or part of WWII.
    Then came Korea but we didn't hear a lot about that until Ike got us out.
    Then some more peace until I joined the Navy in 1963.
    Dominican Republic 1965.
    Vietnam 1968-69.
    And pretty much continous stuff to fill in the blanks until I retired in 1995, including a stint on USS Midway during Desert Storm.
    Too many Sargeants have learned to play taps in our time. folks.

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  18. Thank you, Jim, for a well-written memorial to all the men & women who served & are serving in our military. I’m with you about kids growing up during a time of long wars, kids who may never know our country at peace like my kids did.

    With your permission, I would like to take this opportunity to remember my uncle, a Nebraska farm boy, here on your blog. Okay?

    A few weeks after I was born, my uncle was sent with the re-formed 106th to the Ardennes Forest, arriving on Dec. 15, 1944, the day before Hitler’s army began the last big German offensive in WWII - the Battle of the Bulge. The 106th officers surrendered after German tanks mowed down most of their troops & the rest were marched & shipped in trains for weeks with little food or water to several stalags, ending up in Stalag III-A near the Oder River on Germany's border with Poland. Six months later, a week before Berlin fell, Russia's army liberated those POW camps & my uncle joined a few POWs who commandered a town's firetruck to get back to France. He was discharged 5 mo. later - a mere shell of his former self at 90 lbs. with most of his hair gone when he arrived back on my grandparents' farm, taking 10 years of Grandma's TLC to heal.

    They were just ordinary men living through a hell of someone else’s making ~ enduring the usual ravages of war - in hopes of peace among nations.

    Contrast my uncle’s experience with that of 200,000+ Germans captured & brought to POW camps in the States. My home state of Nebraska had 9 POW camps that fed the Germans well & provided labor to nearby farmers whose sons were drafted ~ an odd twist of irony. When the war ended, many of these young men didn’t want to return to Germany to face the destruction, starvation & roving refugees - they stayed and made a life here in the States.

    To all who served or are serving now, and to those who lost loved ones or still have family members in Iraq/Afghanistan ~ Big HUGS ~ Moms

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  19. Jim: I especially liked your description of yourself as a typical Warrant Officer & sent it to a friend's son, also recently retired from the Navy. I think he will enjoy reading your blog as well. Moms/Eve

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  20. Chief - thanks for remembering the Coast Guard as well. We seldom receive any recognition or credit.

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    1. chautauqua-
      I say " thank you " and shake the hand of every Coast Guard man and woman I meet. Please accept my virtual handshake here.
      We rely on you all here in SE AK, every day, every hour. You all have done so much for every one of us here. We have to gripe about the enforcement stuff just to be tough but so many of us owe our lives or the lives of people we love to you. Thank you.
      Alaska Pi

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  21. Truly did cry a bit. Thank you Jim, as always, beautifully written.

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  22. Jim: As usual, thanks for your astute and sensitive perspective. As is often the case, those who have engaged in war are the least likely to look forward to more war as a final solution. During WWII, I was the last of almost two dozen brothers, cousins, uncles and fathers from our extended family to enlist and at the end, our participation represented a wide-spread history of the war. And when we returned home, we got discharged, got jobs or went to school and mostly kept our experiences to ourselves. But along the way many of us took advantage of the magnificent educational resources available and helped make our country the intellectual powerhouse that it is today. And in our grandchildren we see the results of any sacrifices we might have made and see a hope for the future of our country through them.

    Thanks Jim: I feel that our grandchildren someday will have a similar breadth knowledge and experience that you show in your posts. At least, that is our hope.

    Al B

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    1. Al B: Thank YOU & all your extended family for serving our country not just in time of war, but ongoing in time. You remind me of all my uncles who served; however, only one was in combat, taken prisoner & returned home a shell of the man he was. Like you, the others went to college on the GI Bill & made a good life for themselves. Not only did everyone's children & grandchildren reap the rewards, so did the rest of us in the entire country. Again, sir ~ thank you! Moms/Eve

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  23. Thanks to all the commenters here and Jim most especially.
    Memorial Day is one of the toughies for me. Too many losses too close to home for too many years.
    Until this year I had my Pop , WWII era submariner and father extraordinaire , to hold real or virtual hands with to get through the needed remembering.
    This was a good place to come this year. Best wishes to all.
    Alaska Pi

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    1. AlaskaPi - My next older brother was in the sub service during WWII and my oldest sister's husband was too. My brother-in-law served on the Wahoo then the Silversides. His brother also served on the Dorado and never returned, possibly one of the few incidents of a US sub being a victim of friendly fire. My brother served on the Queenfish during the Awa Maru incident and ended his service on a boat I don't remember. Both are long since gone but not forgotten.

      JSRI

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  24. Thanks, Jim. You prolly will want to fix this sentence: "And their parents, those of us born in the 1960’s, we can’t them that they’re wrong, that war is not the normal state, that normality is peace without conflict."

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    1. Fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  25. I've only recently found your blog.

    You do a wonderful job of saying everything I've thought over the last few years. You are my new hero.

    Thanks.

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  26. In certain parts of the country, Decoration Day is still separate from Memorial Day. Mostly in the SE, I think, and maybe in scattered rural counties, despite Federal holidays.

    Hell, in MS, some counties close down all "public" offices on the birthday of anyone they can think of who has ever held public office, of any conceivable sort. Also, the SE still has dry counties, in which you cannot buy alcohol, at all, at any time. So every sheriff is a bootlegger, and on football nights, every den is a speakeasy.

    The US of A is an odd, odd place.

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  27. Nice to see you back!! Dare we ask what happened?

    Ann C.

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    1. Indeed. Conspiracy theories are circulating.

      BB

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  28. Jim,
    Sure is good to see the Stonekettle Station back to normal operations today. Good job getting it sorted, Shipmate!
    Old Navy Comm O

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  29. Whoa !!! Thought I was gonna have to buy sumpin'.
    We are all waiting for the report.
    Best wishes on the family situation.
    Stay safe.
    Bear

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  30. Oh cool. Global DNS finally said, 'Ohhey, yeah, I remember that Stonekettle site." I was beginning to wonder if it was time to go domain shopping... :p

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  31. It's good to see you back online, Jim.

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  32. Beautiful post. While I always stop short of the sentiment of " Happy Memorial Day," I did find myself enjoying the day with others who are in the same boat as me, which is that of the long suffering and devoted but harried military wives of our community. This Memorial Day found our husbands over in the Arghandab River Valley somewhere, doing their very best to make the most of some austere and dangerous conditions. They are on short time. We will be reunited soon, and if nothing happens, we will welcome all of them home in the flesh...ALL of them. I don't believe in luck, but if I did, I would say that we have been lucky this go-round. Almost with bated breath, we wait, clinging to the hope that Memorial Day's meaning won't hit too close to home, as it has for so many of our friends over the past 12 years.

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