Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day Dedication

Veteran's Day is always an important day. Recognizing the service of those in the military is a worthy endeavor, regardless of one's political ideals, regardless of one's support for any particular armed conflict, or the very concept of armed conflict, itself.

I, as you probably know, never served, nor did my brother, my father, or any of my direct family members after my two grandfathers. My paternal grandfather served as a Motor Machinist's Mate on an LST (tank landing ship--that's NOT his ship) in the Pacific during World War II. He played the harmonica, and I remember, as a boy, looking with awe upon his wooden harmonica case, into which he had carved the names of all the places he and his harpoon had traveled. I imagined him, during more peaceful moments, lying upon the deck of his ship, playing popular tunes as the South Pacific sun set on the horizon of the breeze-kissed ocean. I also remember jars of cowrie shells that he kept in mayonnaise jars in the attic. There was a certain romance to his service, in my mind, most likely birthed and developed by far too many John Wayne films. Sure, there were enemy planes intent on sinking my grandfather's ship, and cannons poised to cause destruction and death to him and his shipmates, but, to me, it was always in black and white (or, better yet, technicolor), and it was always a great adventure.

I don't think he ever thought of it that way. I know he was drafted, and that he was less than gung-ho about it. He served in the Navy, because, according to him, when the sergeant asked him which branch he wanted to serve in, my grandfather told him, "I don't care, you're the one who called me."

He never talked about it much, and he may still refuse to discuss it (I haven't tried to talk with him about it, lately), except for one time on an Atlantic Ocean beach, when my brother and I were building, instead of sand castles, our own version of Iwo Jima, including Mount Suribachi, the Japanese stronghold on which the US flag was eventually (and famously) raised. Our grandfather made a few comments about our placement of geographic features, and told us that he never saw anybody raise any flag (he's kind of cantankerous, like that--I come by it honestly, you see).

My maternal grandfather served as a Technician Fifth Grade (Corporal) in the Army during the same war. He served as a medic in Europe, but I don't know where. I never saw him much after he and my grandmother moved to Richmond, and we never talked about his service, although he seemed interested enough in that period of his life to keep a small library of books on the war that I was honored enough to inherit upon his death several years ago.

I still, after years of reading and study, after coming to an adult understanding of the awesome and awful effects that war has on the soldier (and the countryside in which it is waged), can't completely extinguish that ember of Romanticism that I had in childhood for the Second World War. But, of course, that Romanticism is the core of a greater understanding that recognizes that it was something that not only ended lives, but changed them forever. I know that both of those men, taciturn as they may be and have been, harbored images and feelings that they cared not, and perhaps dared not share.

I also recognize that I, and all of us, owe them greatly. Perhaps most of all those of us who have never served, never had to serve. I recognize, too, that the young men and women sacrificing today are owed a gratitude. I don't for a second see the struggle they are engaged in as the same sort of struggle as World War II, but, misdirected or otherwise, they are giving of themselves in a way that I never did, never have, and perhaps never will.

I am afraid we will always have war. We will always have the need to sacrifice our brothers and sisters for causes just and questionable. And, struggle though we may against the leaders who make this fact a truth, desire though we might to see an end to conflict, hatred, violence of all kinds, the fact still remains that those who serve deserve our thanks.

A hundred and forty three years ago, perhaps our greatest president, at the consecration of a military cemetery in a small town in Pennsylvania, said it best:

We are met on a great battle-field of [...] war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that [our] nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- 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.

And though the Union was saved, and though, four more score years later totalitarianism and genocide were defeated (albeit temporarily), and though our nation still stands, we should dedicate ourselves to its preservation as best we can, for this nation is still a work in progress. We are making strides, some large and some small, but we still have a long way to go.

Thank you, Cpl. Horace Seavey Batey, Mo. MM Emil Thomas Reda, and all veterans.

1 comment:

La Fashionista said...

I appreciated reading this very thoughtful dedication. I admire your awareness of history - which (knowing you) of course does not surprise me, but I find this rarely integrated into present-day experiences in my life in general. Thank you for your beautiful writing that invites me to reflect with gratitude.