Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stop...remember...honor...

Saturday is Veteran's Day in the US, and Remembrance Day for my friends in Canada and Australia. And this day finds me making a confession, and hopefully making amends.

I am a child of the 70's. My father was a very Republican, "my country right or wrong" guy in the middle of the Vietnam War and Watergate. I was a stubborn, opinionated, "what the hell did Nixon think he could get away with?" high-school student who would have gladly wrapped himself in the Constitution the way some folks did with the flag. I had no use for the war, the "military industrial complex" or most of the US Government at the time. And for one summer, I protested the war, the military, and almost every damn thing I could. If there was something to be against, I was against it.

My confession was that I was stupid enough to lump the servicemen and women of the armed forces in with their leadership, in my head and in my heart. I generally despised what I believed was the mindless mentality of the armed forces, and their involvement in what I believed was a stupid war.

That was wrong. Period.

Now my other confession is this: I don't think any more of the war in Iraq than I did of Vietnam. But my amends is that I'm not about to debate that, today. Because Veteran's Day, and Remembrance Day, is not about national policy, or politics, or posturing or photo ops or sound bites.

It's about the men and the women of the armed forces. Committed, brave, talented men and women who believe enough in what they are doing to live, and breathe, and fight...and suffer, and die...in the service of their country.

It is to remember the sacrifice of soldiers who served, and fought, and lost limbs, and died in the service of their country. And to remember, support and encourage all the families and friends, who struggle with their loved ones' woundings or who mourn their deaths. That's who we remember, and that's who we honor, on this day.

It is a tradition in Canada and Australia to remember veterans who have served with two minutes of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (originally, when the World War I armistice was signed). I like that idea a lot. I think it's a tradition that is overdue in the US as well. And that brings me to Terry Kelly and "A Pittance of Time."

A year ago, I heard Kelly's story:
On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the store's PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the store's leadership role in adopting the Canadian Legion's "two minutes of silence" initiative. He felt that the store's contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven o'clock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the "two minutes of silence" to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terry's anger towards the father for trying to engage the store's clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was channeled into a beautiful piece of work called, "A Pittance of Time." Terry later recorded "A Pittance of Time" and included it on his full-length music CD, "The Power of the Dream."
I'd urge you to take a couple minutes to go to Terry's site and watch the video. I don't mind admitting that I've seen this video a dozen times - and it still brings tears to my eyes. (Then click on the link that says, "Click here to view a clip from the concert production" - some great insights on a play produced around the theme of Kelly's music.)

And on this Veterans Day, I leave you with the words of Abraham Lincoln, whom I hope spoke for us all....
... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

6 comments:

[rhymes with kerouac] said...

Well said, Steve.

AnotherLostAngel said...

My dad, who was one of many,many soldiers who slugged thier way across europe with Patton, and one of the few very first to liberate the concentration camps, who saw with his own eyes the dead men walking created by the 3d Riech, said simply "War is Hell." He had some stories, but when you pushed on what it was really like, that was where he would leave it. WAR IS HELL.

There was no glory or glamour or ego. I think the men and women like my Dad, who left a boy and came back a man, who left our soil with souls innocent and came besmerched with the grisly stain of carnage, the stench of death, murder begot by murder, who saw more than thier share of men driven mad by fighting a mad man,....combat fatigue, I belive they called then...for them, it was something they never wanted to look at again in the daylight, and it was a thing many could never run away from in thier minds as night fell.

War is Hell. Don't ask me anymore. That was his response. I think that was the original Don't ask Don't tell policy.

I was a child of the 60s. I read Jonny got his gun in high school. My older brothers were class of 66, 67 and 69. But we were blessed by the liberal proposition that those who were smart enough to go to college should go, irrespective of thier means. My Oldest brother was at Marquette on an Evans Scholars Caddy scholarship and The next went to Brown as national merit scholar. The young one went to Circle and lived at home. We were lucky. Class privledge kept our boys out of there. But many were not so lucky, of course. And then, just as now, the poor kid's son dies to protect the rich kid and his dad. Not in every case, of course. But lets talk averages. Anecdotal evidence can prove any point. I remeber those days vividly because they were so clear and so important. That many of those lessons seemed to evaporate into the air bewilder me beyond comprehension.

That a draft dodger could call a decorated veteran weak on defense and america would buy it. That a congressman who lost his legs in vietnem could be colored as weak by the Big Red Propoganda Machine and it would stick. That a bunch of rich kids, prep school elites (You know who they are) could and would start a war that was only consouled against by one in their ranks.....he being the soldier...the one who knew what we were in for. The closest the others ever got were cashing thier bonus checks from the firms that would reap milliions off this national disgrace......

My vow of humility and checking my ego and self rightousness is tested most severely by this topic. My anger knows no bounds. From the get go I felt if its a war, then its a war. Lets have a draft with no deferment, and lets get as many kids from willmette and lake forest and shaker heights killed as from chicago and akron and texas. There are 2 twins that should be there right now. The idea that the "military familes" see this war one way and liberal folks like me see it another is a travesty. When my dad went to Europe on a big boat, he was not from a "military family." Perhaps there have always been families with traditions of military service, who produced more officers than privates. But the idea of the citizen soldier is what held sway for most of our history. The notion that WE ALL enjoy the fruits of liberty. WE ALL derive safety and security from protecting this nation by force when necessary. Why does anyone accept the notion that a few hundred thousand can and should bear the cost of this quagmire, and the rest of us just need to put bumper stickers on our cars and vote Republican? How can anyone look those people in the eye and not bear the shame that comes from being a free loder on the liberty train? If some of us are at war, we're all at war. If some of us are good enough to die, every one of us should be. I have never been a soldier, but I have been a citizen who has benefited from the sacrifices of all those who came before me. And I can not help but feel if the middle and upper middle class paid the same price in dead sons and daughters as the working class did, there would be a little less swagger and bravado in Washington.

I have always been a keen student of politics, history and sociology. I never saw questioning the war or doubting the honesty or judgement or wisdom of the commander in chief as in any way a questioning of the troops. The notion "If you support the troops then you support the war, and if you support the war you are supporting the troops" was just another stroke of brilliance of the Big Red Propoganda Machine, and it saddens me that the majority of Americans bought into it. The two seem as clearly separate as day and night. Especially when the "commander in chief" obtained his position under highly questionable circumstances to begin with. At any rate, I feel sorry for our dead and thier families. I feel sorry that the party of big business, which has bent over backwards to destroy the economy of small town USA, to let family farmers starve as it feeds agribusiness, to destroy or render impotant labor unions to the point where there is no way to make a decent living without college, and "by the way, I hope you can pay for your own college out of your after school McDonalds Job, and your dad's unemployment stubs.....this is the land of your own bootstraps, you know....start yankin"....creating and perpetuating a constant flow of young people needing the military to pay for thier education and thus join up.....

I am perched on my soap box again.

Today we need honor those who have died, and thier loved ones. And those who have been wounded forever, and who have given of themselves because their country asked them to, or thier boss told them to. May they all rest in peace or prosper, may they all find safety and may I have the continuing grace in my life to thank them in person whenever I see them. That is why we have veterans day.

I am here. My dad came back. That alone is proof enough that some are luckier than others.

AnotherLostAngel said...

My apologies for not matching my zeal for pontification with an equal zest for editing and spelling correction. My gosh, what a mess.

And I sort of apologize for being so political. I guess for me it is impossible to set politics aside when thinking of veterans. After all, they were not killed by lightning. They were killed serving in the armed forces of a nation on the orders of a president and congress under the flag of a country organized with a government whos decision makers are politically determined. So yes, one could leave politics out of it. One could. I'm not sure I could.

Anonymous said...

Great Post

David Chatelier said...

And I still appreciate Donovan's "Universal Soldier"...

Ozark Uncle said...

Steve, I'm reading this post now four years after you wrote it. It's one of those that is timeless, and should be remembered for as long as we have troops in harm's way.