Thank you for putting my dad and me in your cool Memorial Day poster. I’m sending this to you on my blog because it’s the best way I can include text and pictures.
I look like a real Rambo type dude in that picture on your poster, but that was just a lucky shot by my friend and combat photographer John Stidham. I was no hero. All I did was go to the Vietnam war for my country for two years. I was always uncomfortable, often bored and sometimes in danger, but I was never heroic. And actually, going to Vietnam was never about keeping America free. I thought it was to help keep the South Vietnamese people free.
Your great-granddad, on the other hand, was a real hero in a real war that we fought so we could stay a free people. He flew his P-51 Mustang in Europe in 1944 and 1945. That was during World War Two when America and a lot of other countries were fighting against Germany and Japan.
1 – The wings of his P-51 were filled with cameras and not guns. His job was to take pictures of German factories and military bases. He was so happy that he didn’t have to kill anyone. He told me that was especially important for him because his family was from Germany and some of his cousins were probably in the enemy army.
2 –When Babe’s Flash was shot down over a wheat field in Belgium, a local farmer hid him from the German army and helped him sneak back to the American lines.
3 – Most important of all, he said, was that he was able to come home safely from the war in Europe and again later from the war in Korea. He said he was happy just to be alive and to have a good family.
A whole lot of other people were not so lucky. Memorial Day is a time when we remember all the men and women who died fighting for America in all our wars. It all started 150 years ago in Charleston, South Carolina during the Civil War. A lot of the northern prisoners-of-war at the Charleston prison died. Black men and women who were kept as slaves had to take care of the dead. They had to dig holes in the ground, put the bodies in and cover the graves up with dirt. It was a terrible job and they really felt bad for the men they had to bury. So, each time they buried a man, they said a prayer for his soul and then they decorated the grave with a bunch of fresh cut flowers.
For a long time after that, the holiday was called Decoration Day. The name changed to Memorial Day after World War Two. Memorial is from the word memory and this is the day to remember the people who died fighting for our country.
Doug was a really cool guy I served with in Vietnam. He was a door-gunner in a Huey helicopter. One day he went out on a mission and he never came back. His ship crashed in a rice field. Everyone on the ship died. They were not as lucky as my father and I were. I still miss him.
So, Zenji, I am really honored that you include my dad and me along with your Granddad Infante in your Memorial Day tribute. It is really an extra special honor to be remembered with all those heroes and victims who lost their lives for their country in all those terrible wars. But actually, we don’t deserve such an honor because we lived to come back. Our day is Veterans Day, November 11th. That’s the time to remember heroes like your Great-granddad and ordinary soldiers like me.
Thank you again for the nice art installation. And before I sign off, I’ve got to say, your penmanship is looking good and you did a really impressive, colorful layout. I can’t wait to see your next graphic production.
11:11 11/11 1918 ARMISTICE DAY
Honoring those who served
in the War to End All Wars
11:11 11/11 2009 VETERANS DAY
Honoring those who served
in all the wars that followed
“Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.
– Bertrand Russell“
Older men declare war.
But it is the youth that must fight and die.”
– Herbert Hoover
“The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.” – William Westmoreland
“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.”– Jean-Paul Sartre
War is the rich man’s profit,
the politician’s choice,
the youth’s adventure,
the patriot’s anthem,
the family’s tears,
the veteran’s nightmare.
– Monde Dane
MEMORIAL DAY – America’s Day of the Dead drew a comment by Mal that I want to highlight. This Kiwi offers a well stated perspective unburdened by America’s sacred cows. He also gives us a glimpse of how the people of New Zealand remember their war dead.
You hit the nail on the head identifying the comfort people take in believing, misguidedly, that the deaths are for some greater good, purpose, noble cause… I don’t. My country has been involved in far fewer conflicts than America, but having lost 2% of its population in the brutal Great War, and after reading the engraved memorial stones in every small town in the country, I always considered war to be a disgraceful crime. And I always felt sorry for the poor foot soldiers who go, ‘patriotically’ (read ‘conditioned’) to die, “for Queen and country”. Mass psyche is strong, especially when encouraged and manipulated by governments, churches, songwriters… for defending, um, what was it again?
All's Quiet on the Western Front, Apocalypse Now, Avril Lavign - When You're Gone, Christopher Snider, Day of the Dead, Hamburger Hill, John Clem, Memorial Day, movies, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Trace Adkins - 'Til the Last Shot's Fired. The Doors - The End, War casualties, YUJI DIALOGUES
Yuji: Did you hear Mari’s gone to New York for a week?
Dane: Really? She picked a bad time to go.
Yuji: Yeah,she might come back with the swine flu.
Dane: The swine flu? Forget about it!
Yuji: Well, why is it a bad time to go?
Dane: It’s the Memorial Day three-day weekend. A lot of stores and stuff are closed.
Yuji: Memorial Day? What do they remember?
Dane: All the Americans who died in wars.
Yuji: Must be a lot – America has been in a lot of wars.
Dane: Yes, I’ll say! Ten major wars in the last 240 years.
Yuji: That adds up to one for every generation.
Dane: And quite a few smaller ones in between.
Yuji: So, how many soldiers have died so far?
Dane: 1,358,053 as of last Wednesday.
Yuji: And the count goes on. They’re still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dane: Yes. More than one death every day this month.
Yuji: I wonder who the last poor soul was.
Dane: I checked. The last named death was a 25-year old named Roslyn Shulte.
Yuji: Roslyn? A woman?
Dane: Yes, she was an Air Force lieutenant from St. Louis.
Yuji:What a waste! A girl and so young.
Dane: Well most of them have been men younger than that. The most common age is 20, but Christopher Snider, the first American to die in the Revolution, was only 12!
Yuji: Twelve? That’s too young to be in the Army, isn’t it?
Dane: He wasn’t a soldier, he was an innocent bystander who was shot by a Loyalist. The Boston Massacre happened when people were demonstrating against his death.
Yuji: I see. I didn’t think a twelve-year-old could join the Army.
Dane: It’s happened. John Clem became a sergeant in the Union Army in 1864 when he was just twelve. But at least he survived the war.
Yuji: How old do you have to be to join the Army?
Dane: Nowadays the minimum age is eighteen. But you can join at 17 if your parents say it’s OK. I was drafted for Vietnam just after I turned 19.
Yuji: Thank God you made it back alive!
Dane: Yeah, but some of my friends didn’t. Did any of your family die in the war?
Yuji: One of my great uncles died in the Philippines. What about you?
Dane: My wife’s uncle died in Manchuria and her grandmother died in a US air raid in Tokyo. Her father was a soldier in China and my Dad was a pilot in Europe and Korea. Both of them made it back alive.
Yuji: I guessed so. Otherwise neither of you would be here today! Anyway, what do you do on Memorial Day?
Dane: We’re suppose to honor the fallen soldiers, but for most Americans it’s just another long weekend. Do you have a Memorial Day?
Yuji: No, because we lost the war. But some of us try to honor the people who died in the China and Pacific Wars.
Dane: How many died?
Yuji: 1.2 million soldiers and 580,000 civilians!
Dane: Including Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I thought more Japanese civilians died. That’s not as bad as some countries. The Germans lost over 7 million people total – not counting the Holocaust.
Yuji: I guess the Germans suffered the most, but then they started it, didn’t they.
Dane: No, the Soviets had the highest casualties – about 23 million!
Yuji: Jesus! And I read somewhere that 20 million Chinese died. What about America?
Dane: Not so bad, actually. We lost about 417,000 soldiers, and only 1,700 civilians.
Yuji: Maybe if everyone remembered how many people have already died in wars, they wouldn’t start new wars.
Dane: Definitely! That’s what Memorial Day really should be all about.
[Note: War casualty figures taken from Wikipedia]
“Say a prayer for peace
For every fallen son
Set my spirit free
Let me lay down my gun
Sweet mother Mary I’m so tired
But I can’t come home ’til
the last shot’s fired”
Trace Adkins – ‘Til the Last Shot’s Fired
Trace sings the sentiments so many Americans feel today; hopes for peace, despair for life lost, faith in the promise of heaven and in the dedication of the soldier. His solid, soulful voice evokes pride and comfort — too much comfort for me. I cannot feel comfortable about violent death; I do not accept it as inevitable or useful; but only as pointless slaughter.
Certainly the death of our best youth must serve a purpose, but whose? Who does it benefit? The dead soldier? You? Me? The vague collective entity we like to call the American people? The politicos? The military brass? The war profiteers? The enemy? God?
Most conscientious Americans want very much to believe that the soldiers’ sacrifice was not made in vain, that it was for the noblest cause and that it will contribute to eventual victory of our nation over its enemies. Only this can bring us comfort; comfort that encourages feelings of honor, pride and certainty in the rightness of our war. The flags and anthems raised for the fallen soldiers then set the stage for yet more unjust death.
Better we deny ourselves the self-serving comfort, the self delusions, the patriot pandering. How much better it would be if their sacrifice were seen for what it is, the ugly, horrific, waste of mankind; only then will their deaths be not in vain, but will serve the greatest purpose of all, the end of the cycle of death, the end of war.
To this end, and at risk of incurring much righteous wrath, I ask you to forgo the flag draped eulogies and appeals for glory and instead focus your memorial thoughts on the horror of war and the reality of death. Honor is for the living — there is nothing for the dead but eternity.
I believe we all owe it to the men and woman who died in the name of our professed national interest to witness their sacrifice without comfort. They may not all be heroes, but they are all dead. Many of those who lived may suffer even more. Hollywood sometimes tries to recreate the horror, but as you watch keep in mind that even its most graphic attempts never quite succeed.
Omaha Beach from Saving Private Ryan
The End – The Doors from Apocalypse Now Intro
Scenes from The Thin Red Line
The Thin Red Line – When You’re Gone – Avril Lavign
RELATED POST: WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT WAR?