Written Memorial Day 2008 Flag draped boxes on cross Atlantic flights make silent return trips to sleepy small town American neighborhoods resembling Rockwellian Saturday evenings. Towns where children learn to hunt each other with paintball guns in their worn out thrift-store cammies and go to church on Sunday mornings before basking in the midday sun at the picnic tables of backyard barbeques where the men drink Coors Light and flip burgers on grills as the women soak sexily in pools sipping margaritas and talking about the tragedy that is the war. The tragedy that is the war that might call on their working class sons and daughters to serve over in a land that no one in their town can even find on a map. And the children throw horse shoes as the clank of near misses brings out thoughts of almost, thoughts of the hand grenades yet to come, while the men tap the Rockies at an alarming rate but not too alarming in this weather on this hot summer Sunday afternoon where the UV rays do a number on the fair skinned Polish farm boys the reddening tough guys who today refuse SPF fifteen but tonight will cry out for the ecstasy that is aloe vera, and they all retire to air conditioned living rooms to watch local newsmen speak of hell, speak of promising lives cut short. Promising lives cut short for what? And a man unwinds the windblown American flag so it again flies freely, for whatever that’s worth. But unwind it he does indeed as he unwinds to more Rocky Mountain freshness though he’s never been to the Rockies though he’s never been outside Massachusetts save his time in uniform his time in the sandbox where he was sent by a President Bush but not by our President Bush. As he unwinds in his air conditioned sanctuary he can’t help but think of what was what is and what might be as those flag draped boxes bring kids his cousin’s age back to teary eyed lovers, daughters and mothers, sons and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, grandmothers and grandfathers. Grandfathers as tough as nails from fighting the second great war. Grandfathers who worked their lives in laborious jobs to help provide their sons and their sons’ sons with something more, with a peace that was a promised result of their war, their sacrifice their blood, sweat and tears and all the beers needed to wash away the memories, the ghosts that the greatest generation hoped only they would have to battle. But as old men now they cry for their sons who fought in Southeast Asia, dying as pissed on patriots long forgotten by their greedy and racist government with its blood soaked hands. Its blood soaked hands that strangled and continue to strangle those home and abroad whom Uncle Sam has dehumanized since the infancy of this, the land they send us to represent. These grandfathers shed long repressed tears for the new patriots. As their sons fought Charlie their grandsons continue to fight Hajji continue to die and continue to come home as broken men, lost souls or as patriotic luggage silenced, cut down in their best days which became their last. Grandfathers who sit on VFW bar-stools buy watered down draft beer as a way of saying to the kids ‘you’re one of us now. We’ll all die soon but you poor bastards have a lifetime left in a world with no hope, no reason to dream, no chance of the peace we thought we paid for in our war, a peace that’s nowhere to be seen and your spilled blood won’t find in the mountains or the desert’, These grandfathers, the ‘greatest generation’ would trade places in a second with the kids forever six feet under after their time in the sandbox, just as they would have with their long forgotten sons killed by strangers in a strange land some forty years ago. They sit in their VFW’s, eighty something years old dying to die, crying for all they’ve seen for all they’ve done and all they’ve failed to do. As CNN shows the numbers they cry because that’s what it’s come down to. If you don’t know one of the numbers, if you couldn’t have become a number, then a number is all you’ll see. They cry. They cry for 24 hour news cycles glossing over reality and stirring up jingoist fear, pointing fingers at villages, beating war drums to kill people who had never even heard of New York City. They cry for the numbers that followed, and for the men and women behind the numbers. They cry for the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and for the widows, widowers and orphans behind the numbers. They cry for stop-loss and suicide, for color codes and lost freedom, for secret prisons and errant smart bombs. They cry for the orphans and widows left behind in faraway lands by our weapons, by our military might. They cry for discarded heroes, firefighters dying from rare cancers, and veterans by their own hand. These grandfathers, these hardened old men, tattoos and scars, chests full of medals, lifetimes of memories, realized dreams and hellish nightmares, ghosts and angels and demons, parades and accolades, pomp and circumstance, elections and impeachments and assassinations, sex and rock and roll and drugs in brown bags prescribed by VA doctors from Harvard, and funerals and cold war commies and nine to five jobs leading to bearable retirements spent fishing and golfing and drinking to remember, and to forget. These old, tired, sad men welcome grandsons with handshakes and rounds of beer like they welcomed their sons, as they wander through the front door looking lost and confused, some of them hopeful, all of them broken. The kids park their gas guzzling trucks next to the Cadillac’s of the old men with handicap plates. And you have father, son and grandson sitting there crying in their beers for what they’ve seen, what they’ve done, and what they’ve failed to do as history repeats itself again and again and again. And again more bodies make cross Atlantic flights in flag draped boxes and tiny flags get placed by new gravestones with birthdates beginning in the seventies and eighties, and ending before what dreams may come, came to be, before the GI Bill was used and college degrees were awarded, before aisles were walked down and toasts were made by best men. History repeats itself as those who make it home are left to fight another battle for all of their remaining days. History repeats itself again as Plato’s words ring true when only the men and women in those flag draped boxes have seen the end of war, when farm and city kids carry the torch to fight battles dreamt by businessmen casting lots. History repeats itself as Bob Dylan’s lyrics of World War Three don’t seem that crazy when World War Three is nearly upon us and peace is something only hippies can imagine and imagination is something that died with a Beatle in a field of strawberries in the city that would later ignite patriotism and fear and bigotry on a darker day than any the Pepsi generation had ever seen. History repeats itself again in days when cold war kids with Nintendo’s and compact discs become the next generation equip with X-Box’s, iPods and laptops and keys to the world at their fingertips but wearing blinders and earplugs are oblivious to third world bloodshed and starvation, broken levees and homes in our own backyard, and veterans with bags full of VA pills committing suicide by the dozen. History repeats itself again and grandfathers see the ignorance technology has bred when social networking drives us further from reality and war is a video game that pot smoking college kids play, and dancing stars, American idols, drug addled socialites and muscle bound ballplayers failing piss tests become the focus of a country that shrugs as CNN speaks of lives as statistics, and thoughts of dead GI’s only cross into the American conscience at memorial day parades and as flags fly from front porches during barbeques where drunken men tell children that they must remember the fallen heroes who fought and died for their freedom. And the children complain of six hour school days dragging into late June because of February snow days spent skiing at Vermont resorts. And the grandfathers shed more tears as history again repeats itself as more and more flag draped boxes make cross Atlantic flights bringing the next generation of working class kids to their final resting place. And the tired men, the lost souls old and young crack open one last beer as history has repeated itself again…
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH… Men in uniform get all the ladies. maybe that’s why i enlisted 12 years ago. I could live with that story. Teenage boys are, after all, young, dumb and full of c…crazy ideas about women… so i wish i could say that i enlisted because I had heard that men in uniform get all the ladies but that would be a lie. granted, that was certainly a part of the allure, but as for me, i was also full of crazy ideas about america and freedom and democracy and apple pie and Toby Keith and Chevy pick-up trucks.
I never even gave it a second thought. guys like me go into the military. well-mannered, god fearing americans like me serve their country no questions asked. terrorists or no terrorists, we serve. Happily. and we don’t get involved in politics. just keep our noses clean, stay frosty, keep our heads on a swivel and do our patriotic duty. For god, family and country we sign away our own freedom and do whatever the government tells us to. occupy a flooded out New Orleans and treat its residents like prisoners? of course. Occupy Iraq and treat it’s residents like animals? absolutely. all in the name of freedom and democracy. in the name of saving freedom from being destroyed by those who hate us for our freedom, and to give them freedom. Iraqi freedom and Enduring freedom.
Just as our granddads nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and firebombed the city of Dresden, nearly killing a young prisoner of war named Kurt Vonnegut Jr in the process (though leaving the railroads and death camps of Europe intact) ‘to save the Jews of Europe’… and our dads and uncles burned down villages in Vietnam to ‘save democracy from heartless commies’… our generation was called upon to save something more important than the Jews of Europe and the democracy of Vietnam, our generation was called upon to save the most important thing of all: ‘FREEDOM’ Or something like that.
And to give democracy and freedom to Afghanistan. Give democracy and freedom to Iraq… and bada bing , bada boom democracy and freedom for all, of course, after a boot in their asses (since it’s the american way) as a lil’ bit of revenge for 9/11!!! And we’ll live happily ever after in the best, greatest country in the world, with our uniform loving gals cooking for us and making us babies and getting us ice cold beers when the game is on, with our illusion of freedom intact (thanks for ruining that, Edward Snowden)
No, I didn’t enlist just for the uniform to get the ladies, I did it to protect an illusion of america, a fantastical idea I was socialized with of the nation i grew up loving and pledging my allegiance to, a nation i was brainwashed from an early age to believe was the greatest nation on earth. I enlisted because I thought we were the good guys. …and because I’d heard that the ladies love a man in uniform. I was crushed when i slowly started to realize that I had been lied to my entire life about pretty much everything.
In hindsight, the price of the uniform wasn’t worth the shallow women that it attracted. In hindsight, the ‘greatest generation’ (quote, unquote) ever, was forced into WW2 for a self-serving government that cared more about gaining access to the markets of post-WW2 Europe, and preventing Japan from shoring up its own backyard, than it did liberating death camps (or opening the gates of american internment camps) or not slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians with an atomic bomb. But they did look quite dapper in those uniforms, which the ladies of course, just loved.
And WW2 was remembered as ‘the good war’. the real history of Vietnam is being re-written by delusional jingoists as a fight between good and evil. And our wars? Well, with 99% of americans not having to sacrifice blood or treasure, and with no-talent socialites, pop singers, and duck hunters filling out entire news cycles… and with ample amounts of bread and circuses, no one cares that we’re still over there. still coming home maimed and mentally broken… or in flag draped boxes.
But, at the end of the day, the ladies still love a man in uniform, whether he’ll become one of the 22 veterans committing suicide every day, or not. So, as long as the uniforms look sharp as hell and the chest candy keeps them dreaming of becoming the next Audie Murphy, the young and dumb teenage boys will keep on signing up…because of these crazy ideas about women just loving a man in uniform.
*I fully understand that some of both men and women are attracted to both men and women in uniform, but this was based off the saying ‘women love a man in uniform’, which I was told by friends and family members when I enlisted just after high school in 2002. I would imagine that this theory also entices some high school kids to join JROTC. As a society, we must think about what a uniform represents. The Nazis wore uniforms, which I’m sure the women just loved*
written August 27, 2013
With the leaves
fading from lush green
into autumn art
before they die
and get raked
and return to the earth
I cry for springtime
and for last fall
when in that cool, crisp air
I would break out
the thrift-store flannel
and threadbare watch cap
and we would go pick
and bite into the cool,
that forever was within reach
and I’d breathe deep that country air
and that perfect moment,
that time of day
when the sunlight warmly illuminates
and the aging farmhouses
and the entire valley.
And you never think it will actually end,
but then it does
and you’re left sitting there
with your thoughts
and your last few cigarettes
and not enough cheap whiskey
to drink her away
as the snow falls on a dreary New England dusk
and the hunted deer feast
on what was left to rot after harvest
written October 17, 2013
(Photo credit: Mort’s Wildlife Photography)