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A time to contemplate wars, soldiers, parades

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: June 27, 2013 6:20AM



If the prophet Isaiah is still watching, he surely is running short on patience. He surely wonders what is wrong with the human race. So should we all.

We have not turned swords into plowshares. Instead, we have created deadlier swords. Maybe, some day.

For now, in this Memorial Day period, the nation is caught up in the euphoria of patriotism, remembering, being thankful, glad to live in a land of the free. What we really feel, deep in our souls, is private, no doubt a mixture of pride and sadness.

What will we feel about this official period of remembering when it ends and the music stops, the parades disband?

We may wonder if those who gave their lives and lie in peace, perhaps in huge military cemeteries, are trying to tell us something. And I wonder about my college buddies who had already died before I was called up.

Emmy, whose fighter plane exploded in a thousand pieces somewhere in the Pacific.

Brenny, who was shot down over there and never seen again. The list of names touches me.

One of my high school classmates endured the awful Bataan Death March. He lived until a few years ago, but was never the same Jim Brown that I knew so well in Elnora. One of my close friends carries painful memories of his service.

None of us who served in a war was ever quite the same when it was over. It was a chilly, nearly dark morning on New Year’s Day, 1944 when thousands of us were herded onto the great Queen Elizabeth, the grandest ship afloat. We were going to a war.

As we eased out of New York Harbor, I wondered if we would ever see the Statue of Liberty again. Twenty-five months later, I saw her again as we pulled into the harbor. She had not changed, but all of us had. I believe I saw her wink a welcome home, but I could not prove it. I waved, though.

Years later, standing on the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, in the deep silence, I imagine that some of the young men resting there below were saying, “remember us.” Those two events are engraved on my heart, one a coming home, the other a going home for so many sailors resting below.

On and on the memories grow, like the poppies in Flanders Field, a killing place in World War I. There is a remarkable story from that war. One Christmas Eve, somewhere in No Man’s Land, soldiers from both sides left their trenches and met on a muddy open strip where they sang carols together. Then they plodded back to the trenches and their guns.

War is a human enterprise that we cannot understand. Maybe Isaiah had it wrong. But we cannot give up trying.

All over the nation, memorials honor those who went to war, those who came back and those who did not. Memorials to wars that have names. Backward we march into the maelstrom of history that charts civilization’s rocky route to where we are.

Lest we forget, there are the deadly excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. What names will we give them? Do they qualify as official wars? Are they part of this weekend of patriotic celebration? They belong, of course. Those who went and did not come back. Those who come home hurting and confused. Those who have waited and still wait for fighters to come home.

Isaiah, there is still a lot of work to do.



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