Monday, May 30, 2005

Since today is Memorial Day,

I thought I'd share this photo of my Dad. It was taken while he was serving in the Pacific during World War II. My Dad never made much rank, but he was proud of his service in the Army. I can't remember what outfit he was in--he and his cousin were in the same group stationed out of New Mexico, I think. It was made up mostly of kids from Texas and Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, like so many others, Dad carried the scars of fighting in a war with him for the rest of his life. He had polio as a child which weakened his legs. He still went into the service, but long periods in cramped quarters damaged his legs further. I can't remember a time when he wasn't hurting or having trouble walking, but it never stopped him. He worked both our farm and my grandpa's and rarely missed a day, even when he had to drag himself out of bed before dawn every day to do it. He also worked other jobs at times, including working at the bank and for the County Election Board--whatever it took to take care of his family.

He never talked about the war much; apparently my mom didn't want him to, and I'm sure there were many things he wanted to forget. My cousins told me most of the little I know. I remember him showing me a picture in a book that he said was him on the beach in Hawaii, but I never knew if he was telling the truth or teasing me.

Anyway, I love this picture of him. My mom probably hated it, but she tended to be a fun-sucker, if you know what I mean. It's hard for me to think of my dad, who was 60 when he died (I had just turned 17), as being this young and, well, just being a guy.

So, here's my dad, hopefully with a hot date:

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When I was little, we called Memorial Day "Decoration Day." My grandma (my dad's mother) and I would cut fresh cedar branches with little blue berries on them and put them with artificial flowers bought at the Kress Store in Guthrie and tie them up with ribbon. These were our flowers for the graves. I thought it was fun--I didn't realize until I was grown that we made them because we couldn't afford anything more. Even today, when I put flowers on graves, I tend to make my own rather than buy something.

My aunt would take us to all the cemeteries--two in Meridian and one in Luther. When we went to Luther, we would always stop at my great-aunt's house. She lived outside town, and her front yard had these wonderful shade trees. She would make us tea and we would sit outside under those trees and visit for hours.

I haven't gone to the cemeteries in a while. I used to go every year, but it got to the point where one year I went to six cemeteries in Kingfisher, Luther, Perkins, Guthrie, and Meridian (and that was without going to the ones in Arkansas), and it was just too depressing. So I remember my family and friends in my head and my heart and tell myself that they're with me all the time and that they don't care if they have flowers or not.

During the Vietnam War, because of the POW/MIAs, many people wore bracelets to remember these soldiers. They were silver medal, they turned your arm green, and each one had the name and date of capture on them, and you were supposed to wear them until your soldier came home. I wore one for several years. Now that I'm an adult, I can't believe that my Mom would allow me to wear such a thing--she didn't like anything controversial that would draw attention to oneself. I now realize that my Dad probably kept her from making me take it off. I think he probably believed that wars were sometimes necessary but not always the right thing to do, and I bet he thought that this was a way to both honor our troops and protest what the government was doing overseas. I think he would think the same thing about Iraq and Afghanistan today.

By the way, I saw my soldier walk off a plane when the war ended. Many bracelet-wearers weren't that lucky, and some are still waiting for their soldier's return.

I have two links for today. The first doesn't need any explanation. Remember.

One of my favorite writers on the internets is William Rivers Pitt. Here is an exerpt from something he wrote for Memorial Day:

What do you love? What do you fight for? What would you die for?

This is Memorial Day Weekend. Better men than I am or ever will be marched off to fight and die for the best ideals this nation has to offer. This weekend, millions of assholes will stuff themselves into cars and ram down Routh 3 to the Sagamore Bridge for a hoped-for weekend of sunshine on cold Cape Cod beaches. Why? Because they got an extra day off. Sure, they'll maybe get choked up during the ballgame when the extra-special 'God Bless America' gets sung, but hell, Normandy was more than 60 years ago, and sure, Dad fought in Vietnam though he doesn't like to talk about it, and sure, the sister-in-law of the neighbors who moved last year might have had a son who was supposed to get shipped off to Iraq...what was his name?

Do we even remember what we stand for anymore?

When was it that we were last a people governed by something besides ease, or the desire for ease; money, or the desire for money; fear, or the desire to kill what it is we fear? Have we ever been anything other than people motivated by base instincts? Of course. Can we be more than that? Of course.

What do you love? What do you fight for? What would you die for?

Those questions need to be asked and answered, and quickly.

Amen, brother. Amen.


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