Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

My description of the 1950’s apparently touched a few nerves. Comments and emails pointed out that the 1950’s were not as wonderful as I described. I’m aware of this. I described the decade as I did for a reason. I may have been too subtle for my own good.  An explanation of what I intended is in the comments section. //Jim



It’s a beautiful day here in the Alaskan Mastsu.

It’s perfect day for grilling out or just working in the yard or maybe taking nice hike – and I may do all three.

It’s also nearly ten years now since those terrible days of 2001.

A full decade of war and death and sacrifice.  For some of our children, the most recent generation and the ones just now reaching the age of reason and awareness, they have never known an America not at war.  Think about that.  Their grandparents came of age in the 1950s, and if you were white and of the new middleclass, what a wondrous peaceful golden age it was – unless you happened to be one of those who went off to the Forgotten War. Those few years of the 1950s are last truly peaceful decade our country has known. The so-called Greatest Generation will always have that, the 1950’s. That nostalgic oasis in a desert of conflict.  Those of us born in the 1960’s, we grew up under the shadow of Vietnam and the tie-dyed nuclear chaos of that decade.  Those who came after us lived with the constant churning uncertainty of the collapsing Cold War and one brushfire conflict after another and now the results of 9/11.  For all of us born since the start of Vietnam, we will never have such a time as the 1950’s to look back upon. Never. Imagine that.

Sixty years now we’ve been at war in one form or another,

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 parts of this world.  They’re out there, right now, walking the bitter broken mountains of Pakistan, patrolling the terrible destroyed streets of Iraq, standing the long watch on and below and above the seas, in the fetid festering jungles of South America, in the dry dusty deserts of Africa, in the deadly skies over Libya, in cold airless orbit far above the Earth, on local bases in their own states and in places so remote you’ve never even heard of them – and wouldn’t believe the descriptions of such places if you did.  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 yet, most would have it no other way.

And there are those who wear the uniform, but can no longer serve – their duty stations are the rehabilitation wards of military hospitals around the world. They won’t be working in the yard or hiking 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 demons of Vietnam and Beirut and Mosul and Firebase Alpha and a thousand other battles you have never heard of.   Many are already dead, killed in action, only they no longer have the wit to know it and so they haunt the streets of America, the forgotten ghosts of war and conflict, slowly fading away.

And 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, and 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. 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 and did their duty and 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, because that’s why they do what they do.




Additional thoughts from previous years:

The last safe stereotype

The Danger of putting your military on a pedestal

December 7th

America, Land That I Love

Things that Chap My Ass About Memorial Day


The Alaska Territorial Guard, A Debt of Honor Unpaid


  1. Beautifully written!

  2. "Their grandparents came of age in the 1950s, and if you were white and of the new middleclass, what a wondrous peaceful golden age it was – unless you happened to be one of those who went off to the Forgotten War. "

    The Korean conflict should not be called a forgotten war. Those of us who went and served remember it most vividly.

    Jim Pickering
    LCDR, MSC USN-Retired

  3. Thank you, Jim, for such a beautifully written post. And thank you for teaching us all to take a quiet moment to remember, to be humble and thankful for our magnificent men and women who have, and continue to serve, and to save our 'issues' for another day.

  4. I remember. And me and mine will never forget.

  5. Son of a Bitch! (and all I did today so far was read and finish a book about a very selfish, attention whoring pretty little bitch in red that sold out the state of Alaska to propel herself to stardom,

    and I fertilized my lawn)

    Thank You Jim!

    I needed this moment of time (the end of my day) to stop and think what the holiday "really" means.

  6. Respectful silence, and a thank you, Jim.

  7. Thankyou. Very well said. I fully agree & will be lifting a beer to the memory of all those who have kept us in the West safe and free. (Australian - on today's news - two more Aussie troops killed in Afghanistan today.)

  8. I called my dad today and wished him not a "Happy" Memorial Day, but one in which I thanked him and my Uncle Cliff for serving their country and their families. Cliff suffers from PTSD developed while serving in the Korean War, and my father flew F-4s in Viet Nam. Another close family friend who served with Dad is buried at Ft. Rich (he was the one who took my mom to the hospital on Guam when she went into labor with my sister-Dad was out flying patrols). I salute all those who fought and who are fighting for us, may you come home safe to your loved ones. Jim, thanks to you for serving your country, and for your most excellent posts.


  9. I'm still p-ssed they moved it to a Monday, and I'm with the Senator that keeps trying to move it back.

    But as one who grew up in the 50s and came of age in the 60s, it was not a time of peace. We kept waiting for WW III.

  10. "They, all of them, came when called"

    Many also volunteered, since it was the only job they could find. Though I served, I don't glorify/revere _all_ service in the same way.

    Otherwise, a beautiful piece Jim; well done!

  11. Just so.

    Somewhat ironic that if any of our generation know anything about the Korean conflict, it's because of M*A*S*H. How crazy is that?

    Dr. Phil

  12. Amen. I couldn't believe my fortune last night when HBO aired "Taking Chance" with Kevin Bacon, I had always wanted to see it. Excellent, elegant film that left my heart in my throat from start to finish. I deliberated whether it was propaganda for the war machine, but in the end decided it simply honored our soldiers, as Chance Phelps (of course) came home in a coffin. I don't agree with all our wars, but I salute or men and women who do without question what their country asks of them.

  13. I was born during the Korean war. Following that we had the fear of communism. Joe McCarthy et al.
    Nuclear blast drills were common place.
    One of my teachers was in an escort plane for the Enola Gay. He saw the blast. He talked about it everytime we came out from under our desks after a drill. Early on, I knew the desk drill would not save me. SO the 50's were not so lighthearted and positive. They just focused on the positive. The industrious and ambitions of my father and others who fought in WW2 and the Korean war were an intentional counter to the horrors of war.

  14. Perhaps I was too subtle with the first paragraph.

    Their grandparents came of age in the 1950s, and if you were white and of the new middle class, what a wondrous peaceful golden age it was – unless you happened to be one of those who went off to the Forgotten War.

    What I intended here was a subtle nod to the fact that the common perception of the 1950's as some wondrous peaceful leave it to Beaver time was mostly that, a perception.

    Beneath the surface was widespread racism up to and including lynchings in the South, an increasing demand for civil rights by minorities - those of color who had fought for America during WWII and by women who had worked in the factories and kept the arsenal of democracy running while the men were off to war, and the restlessness of those whom they couldn't "keep down on the farm no more." McCarthyism. The threat of nuclear war. Korea (even if nobody wanted to acknowledge that we were, indeed, at war). The emergence of the new middle class, the flight to the suburbs and a new social order. The changed relationship between nations. New technology. New ways of thinking.

    I had expected that the next sentence "That nostalgic oasis in a desert of conflict would tip folks to exactly what I intended with this paragraph. The key word is "nostalgic." The 1950's is the (illusionary) standard that many older folks hold up as "America." When they talk about "Taking back America" this is the America they're talking about. That illusion, when minorities knew their place, the world feared and respected the USA, might made right, jobs were plentiful, there was a picket fence around every house, and everybody was a good Christian who drove their 57 Chevy to the church picnic every Sunday wearing bobbysocks and turned up dungarees.

    Hope that clears things up.

  15. I think the people who are nostalgic for the 50s were kids at that time and unaware of the turmoil people faced outside of their circle. In that sense much of the nostalgia is for a return to childhood where everyone else is the accepting child and they are the unquestioned authority.

  16. Interesting. I was born in 1944 and grew up in the rural deep south of the 50s. I am white, female, and middle class. My family was very patriotic and devotedly observed all of the National Days.
    I didn't see the big picture. So, I didn't know a lot of the things you observed about the undercurrents of America and the world during that decade as Cass_M observed children didn't.
    We had radio and later in the decade TV, but not 24 hours a day and we didn't talk on the phone long distance very often because it was too expensive and saved for special occasions like a grandmother's birthday. We had little if any in the way of a national perspective much less a global one.
    But I knew the pieces of the lovely jigsaw puzzle pieces of my own small world didn't fit together in the right order. I wasn't aware of "civil rights", but I felt uncomfortable with the way the "negroes" around me were treated and in small ways rebelled, but on a personal level. And the women I knew were at least on the surface content with being wives and mothers.
    It is always easier to look back in history and see what was wrong with a period than right.
    I am not nostalgic for that time, but I know a lot of my friends are. They idolize it. But that is the way it is with older people.
    I recently told a friend of mine who was waxing eloquently on the past and how things are so awful today "I suppose you're right, but they deserve to screw things up just like we screwed things up." [How's that for high class philosophy?]

  17. First time commenter here, will not be that last. I found you from a link from Pharyngula a a week or so ago, and I'm just catching up.

    This piece was very well written, Jim, as are all of the pieces I've read so far. I eagerly look forward to more! :)

  18. Another beautiful post. Thank you.

  19. On Veteran's Day and on Memorial Day, I thanked those veterans I knew for their service--and any serving members of the armed forces as well.

    When my FiL finally died of his CHF in November 2008, I fully expected him to die on Veteran's Day itself, but it was 5 hours later. At that point, several members of family & extended family were by his bedside in shifts, lest he need attention. I was there when he went between one breath and the next.

    Rangersmom said:
    "I recently told a friend of mine who was waxing eloquently on the past and how things are so awful today "I suppose you're right, but they deserve to screw things up just like we screwed things up." " [How's that for high class philosophy?]

    That's rather like the cultures in which the husband's wife makes life a living hell for her daughter-in-law and the cycle never stops. It is also echoed in something my father told my mother: Why shouldn't I behave this way? My father did it to my mother, why should I do any different?"

    Break those cultural chains.

  20. i'm not sure the idyllic 1950s that you describe exists anywhere except in the pop culture to which people who were born after that decade have been exposed. McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee, the Iron Curtain of Soviet Communism and the rise of Chinese Communism, the Cuban Revolution, and the Korean War dominated the decade. i've always believed that it was the way that music transformed in that decade that make people remember the 50s so fondly, but the country itself wasn't in any better shape then than it is now.


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