More July 4, 2010
Independence Day 2010: Happy Birthday, Pop
Happy Birthday, Pop. Today's really your day, after all.
I've been thinking about you a lot lately, since the day after Memorial Day actually. That holiday weekend was especially tough. It finished up with a memorial service for another county boy killed in Afghanistan, a kid from the county with a "brown paper bag, garden-variety" lineage; in his father's words, a young guy with big dreams - like you - when you left for the Pacific.
Afghanistan, you heard me right, Dad - kind of like Bougainville without the humidity and vegetation; fewer casualties, so far, but countless more amputees.
As I stood with other aging Veteran survivors, between color guard protocols and bagpipe solos of "Minstrel Boy" and "Amazing Grace", State and local politicos wasted no time and covered a lot of ground. From the State Governor, "another true hero that willingly risked his life to protect those ideals that define us as Americans" is gone.
Yes, I'd say so. Just ask his two younger brothers in the front row.
Well, news flash, Dad. It's the 21st Century and well-meaning sentiment has long ago given way to cut-and-paste ritual, as easily as clear blue Manhattan skies can be swallowed by charred detritus and smoldering jet fuel. But I'm not telling you anything you don't know.
Testimonials droned on, barely competing with an uptick in downtown traffic in front of the courthouse wall of heroes. Another fallen warrior that worked "to keep peace, protect democracy, and defend our country" has made the "ultimate sacrifice" sound familiar.
I was just a kid myself in 1953, but I remember when the chaplain said those things about you at Holy Cross Cemetery. After all, Peace was your Product, as a command pilot for the Strategic Air Command in the early Fifties. And before the 21-gun salute stopped resonating through mausoleums, from monument to monument, and the clouds of rifle discharge had drifted away, another seed was planted.
For your sake, Dad, I'm not going to call it blind patriotism. I knew better I just wanted to be a hero like you. But I've learned a lot since then, since my best friend was obliterated in Vietnam and your grandson was permanently traumatized in Iraq, both wars of choice.
Another would-be hero, Army Air Corps veteran, Howard Zinn said it best, "They tell me I am a member of the greatest generation"because I saw combat duty as a bombardier in World War Two. But I refuse to celebrate the greatest generation because in so doing we are celebrating courage and sacrifice in the cause of war. And we are miseducating the young to believe that military heroism is the noblest form of heroism, when it should be remembered only as the tragic accompaniment of horrendous policies driven by power and profit."
OK, OK. General Smedley Butler might have grown on you. And now we both know better. Not exactly quick studies, but we know better.
The gathering of mourners last month, like sixty-one others taking place all over the country is etched in my core, not because of empty sentiment, or genuine concern for that matter, but for another seed of legacy being planted in the words spoken by a new Gold Star father. His son, after all, was lauded as "another volunteer that wanted to protect America and his family, and stand in the gap for us."
Happy Fourth, Pop, and happy birthday. And I'm sorry you never had a chance.
Gene Marx is a Vietnam Vet and member of Veterans For Peace. He lives in Bellingham, Washington. His father Capt Gene Marx, a WWII and Korean War Veteran, was born on July 4th, 1921,and killed in a USAF aircraft accident in 1953.