Sunday, November 09, 2014

To End All War

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what we know as "World War I."  First, because I'm reading a remarkable book by Richard Rubin.  In the early part of this century, he tracked down and interviewed a number of veterans of that war, which ended in 1918.  Thus, the veterans he tracked down were all over 100 years old.  He does a good job of capturing the history, the national mood, the music, etc. of American culture in the early 1900s, all as the backdrop for telling these veterans' stories.

Second, because it's Veterans' Day.  96 years ago, the "War to End All War" ended on this date.  The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The guns went silent.  That is why Nov. 11 is "Veterans' Day."

Charlie was there, somewhere in western Europe.  A handsome doughboy.  A cook, and also a sharpshooter due to his very rural upbringing in SE Alabama.  He came home & married Mattie. Charlie died when I was not quite one year old.  Mattie died when I was in college. 

Charlie & Mattie are my beloved Grandparents. 
Charlie & Mattie, early 1900s

Me in Charlie's lap, 1960
I am forever marked by these two remarkable people from the woods of central Alabama.

Third, because this past August marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War.  England has marked the anniversary well with an exhibit that's taken months of preparation.  The legendary Tower of London has a display.  Have a look.

 Know what those red things are?  Ceramic poppies.  888,246 of them.  That's how many British soldiers died in World War 1.  Essentially, a generation of young men paid the ultimate price.

Click HERE for an article from the Telegraph describing the exhibit.  Take a minute & a half & watch the time-lapse video of sunrise to sunset at the top of the article.  And the two-minute video at the bottom that shows the exhibit from above.

And these poppies represent but one nation's combat fatalities.  In total, the combined allied forces would suffer the loss of over five million men, over 116,000 of which were Americans.  Note that the American forces did not officially go to Europe to fight until the War had been going for a couple of years. 

Charlie & Mattie's sons & sons-in-law would be in the next "Great" war.  George, a son-in-law, served in the south Pacific.  Leldon, another son-in-law, serviced planes in Italy.  Charles & James, sons, both served in Japan.  Charles & James also served in Korea a few years later.
Charles ("Uncle Jr." to us) & James ("Dad" to Jim & me)
Some of Charlie & Mattie's grandsons & grandsons-in-law would serve in a distant place called "Vietnam."  Another guy named Leo who married into the family flew fighter planes on multiple tours of duty over Vietnam, and had to write those letters that begin "It is with great regret..." to families of pilots who served under his command.

One grandson, Jim, flew a plane around the north Atlantic chasing Soviet submarines during the 1980s for the U.S. Navy.  Meanwhile, back home, a lady named Sandi was an officer in the United States Air Force.  Just like her Dad was.

A great-grandson, Jerry, loads bombs on planes now for the USAF.

Friends, relatives, students, & former students serve now or have recently served.  Brett, Gary, Lance, Jim, Jimmy, Cathy, David, John, Brian, Bob, Marshall...So many men & women.

Where do they come from?  Why do they do it?  Why take an oath, put on a uniform, take up weapons, & move to distant places?

Many reasons.  They are are diverse as they are many (both the warriors and their reasons!).  But what they all share in common is a willingness to put themselves in harm's way because their country asks them to do so.  Simple as that.  Courage beyond what I've ever had to summon.

Question U.S. foreign policy & those who formulate it.  I certainly do!

But DO NOT slam the men & women who wear or have worn the uniform! 

To Jim the Navy pilot (my brother), Sandi the former USAF officer (Jim's wife), James the Army Air Corps vet (my Dad), Charles the Army Air Corps & later USAF vet (my Uncle), Marshall the USAF vet (my cousin), Leo the fighter pilot (my step-Dad), Jerry the USAF weapons loader (my nephew), Jimmy the former US Army combat medic (my father-in-law), Charlie the doughboy (my grandfather),...To my friends who stand proudly at Veterans' recognition times at church when their branch of the service is called out...To my classmates who have served & are serving...To my students who have served & are serving...


"There's not much I can tell you about this war. It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning. The politicians talk about the glory of it. The old men talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home." 
Jimmy Stewart, in Shenandoah

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
(Written during World War I.)

Today is Veterans' Day (not Memorial Day).  But every veteran listed here, like every other veteran you know and like every active duty member of our military, has no desire to die young.  And yet, they are willing to do so.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam
(The Ode of Remembrance, published by a British poet in 1914)
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

Amen. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, so they may all come home and learn war no more.  Until that day, thank you for raising them up throughout the generations.

To all of you who serve, I am humbled this day & every day to know you, teach you, & be related to you,