Posts Tagged ‘last full measure of devotion’

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul

What about that old battlefield?

May 28, 2018

In chapter 27 of my 2014 novel, Smoke, we find a young American, Philip, and an old Frenchman, Mel, conversing as they approach a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field. The year is 1937;  in the last week of World War I, Philip’s father had died on that battlefield in 1918. Here’s the scene:

Something about the spring air, the mists at the edges of the fields, the lush, lowland foliage, the shadowy light, lijdt het licht het donk’re licht, something was moving deeply inside of him. “Mel?”

“Yes?”

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

But today, this Memorial Day, 2018, we honor not only the war dead of that First “Great War” of the 20th century. We honor all those who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to a nation that has always stood, and hopefully always will stand, for freedom and justice.

Here’s another phase of our 242-year national history with brave souls to ponder, Vietnam:

VNMem

King of Soul

Their Last Full Measure of Devotion

May 28, 2017

In the novel King of Soul, which I have recently published, college students Donnie and Kevin take an impulsive road trip to Kevin’s home in Ohio. This happens in early May of 1970. While  on the road in Tennessee, they pick up Ed, a hitchhiker. Ed has been honorably discharged from military service in Vietnam only three weeks ago.  In chapter 23, we find  Donnie and Kevin accompanying Ed to a bar in Nashville:

       At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.

       Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.

       Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.

       Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside.  Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each  other, and each man was walking alone.  The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.

       Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot.  He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question,  suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted  somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.

Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.

VietMem2

King of Soul

Vietnam in US

August 2, 2015

59500-6a0120a79e132f970b01b8d13d5000970c-pi

We were there for a long long time.

Our military presence there was a sign:

America would uphold capitalist resistance

against Viet Cong communist insistence.

In the end it didn’t work out that way:

The North moved onto the the South to stay.

Sound familiar?

After years of war hemophilia.

We started with an idea to protect the world

against communist incursion that swirled

throughout Asia and Europe and South America,

so dominoes wouldn’t fall on US in America.

 

Kennedy had good intentions,

as Cold War assumed gargantuan dimensions.

He sent in the advisors and trainers,

as if the whole project were a strategic no-brainer.

 

Johnson stepped up the escalation,

had his guys doing all the right calculations.

But when McNamara found doubts and resigned,

then Cronkite and New Hampshire consigned.

Old Lyndon’s stress and strain were now showing.

He could see where this whole damn thing was going.

So Ho and his insurgents unearthed new determination

to turn Vietnam into a Communist nation.

 

Along came Nixon with all that American bluster,

and the waning resolve that a silent majority could muster.

Although Nixon was stubborn, he got paranoid and stumbled.

I guess he, and we, needed to be humbled.

 

There began, during that time of our national distress,

a cultural fissure we find it hard to redress:

there’s them that went, and them that didn’t go.

As one who didn’t go, I want you to know–

you who fought in the shadow of the Ho Chi Minh trail–

you went and you fought; you did not fail.

 

In some lessons we stand, but in others we fall;

the truths you taught us were the hardest of all.

You were the brave; you who bore the burden, the few.

We couldn’t have known what to do, but for you.

The battles that men make and the wars that we fight

are borne, in our own American way, in the desire to do right.

Looking back on it, I think it’s plain to see:

all we were wanting was to make the world free.

 

That old war began with us in Vietnam,

but it ended with Vietnam in us,

a haunting memory that’ll never go away: jungle patrols long gone,

body counts and trumpets that end in a hush.

 

If you visit the Vietnam War Memorial today,

you’ll see Washington’s Memorial beyond the long wall, granite gray.

At the end of the other angled plane, set your sights on Lincoln’s dedication:

to honor those who bled and died for our upstart nation.

Remember those brave slain at Gettysburg, Verdun, the Bulge, Korea, Saigon,

who lifted freedom’s defense at Iwo Jima, Ia Drang, Hue and Khe Sanh.

 

Yes, now it’s time, our old grievance to acknowledge:

some served in hell while others were in college.

But hey, let us now endeavor,

because we hope our noblest intentions can live forever.

Let us give honor to those brave souls who, in firefights across the ocean,

paid the dear price of our liberty with their last full measure of  devotion,

whether they be now dead,

or with post-traumatic stress instead,

still alive.

That aint no jive.

Strive.

Don’t ever give up.

Now wha’sup?

 

Glass half-Full

I didn’t go to Vietnam, but . . .

May 25, 2015

I was a kid of the ’60s which means now I’m in my own sixties.

While there was a lot going on back in the day, with all the world descending into war and chaos and so forth and so one, nevertheless there was a lot of good happening too.

Always has been, always will be, a lot of good and a lot of bad going on in the world at the same time,  and here we are trying to sort our way through it.

Makes me think of Take Your Place on the Great Mandela, a song sung by Peter, Paul and Mary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-tBLqIz6wA

Now you remember, since I mention the ’60s, there was a war going on back then.

As there is a war going on today, somewhere. Most likely we are involved in it, directly or indirectly, we being the big kid on the block, policeman of the world, inheritor of the post WorldWarII reconstruction and defender of the free world.

I mean that: Defender of free world. It’s a job to be taken seriously.

Back in the day, when the war was in Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and God only knows who else, along with thousands of American boys, were trying to make southeast Asia safe for democracy, I reached draft age at the same time that the US gov implemented a lottery for selecting draftees.

My draft # was 349. Literally the luck of the draw. So I never went to ‘Nam, never served in the military.

Now we don’t have a draft any more. Our soldiers are all professionals. And that, in my opinion, is the main difference between American strength then and America now. And please forgive me when I say, that’s the way it should be. It seems to me that that whole damn business of the anti-war movement during our Vietnam striving was an outcome of the draft. It was the draft, and my generation’s refusal to accept it, that doomed our effort, from the start, to successfully prosecute that unpopular war.

And for what its worth, Vietnam hasn’t turned out so bad. My daughter traveled there several years ago and gave a very favorable report of the place, including their fondness for Americans in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

But looking back on it, ff we had had no draft, everything we did in Vietnam might have turned out differently. We might have won.

But then we’ll never know, will we?, about such vain speculations as the one I have just made.

Nevertheless, that’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it. I’m an American, with a Constitutionally-protected right to express it, thanks to those whose valiant service has assured our freedoms.

And I believe that if another war comes along that truly requires a draft, such as World War II, then our Congress will affirm the need, and men and women will rise to the challenge.

Thanks to those who have fought to defend to our liberty. Thanks to their families, whose survival is saddened by the loss of their brave sons, daughters, relatives and friends who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, who deposited into the blood-drenched soils of Vietnam, Korea, Okinawa, France, Belgium, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, and many other places including our very own USA where President Lincoln commemorated their sacrifice at Gettysburg. . .the dear cost of freedom paid by those who contributed their “last full measure of devotion.”

Now you may be thinking that’s easy for me to say, as one who never served.

And you’re right. It is easy for me to say, or to write, but that’s just the way it is.

In a free country, citizens are free to serve in the armed forces, or not serve. For those who do accept military duty, whether for a season or for a career, we ought to provide a good living, and extraordinary opportunities for them to prosper, to live long and well, in our free nation after they have completed military service.

I mean it when I say: we owe a great debt to our men and women who defend the United States of America and our Allies by serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Because of my feelings about all this, I wrote a novel to express the way I see our war-torn world. It is the story of a young man who did not do military service, but who is, in the story, traveling through Britain and France during the year 1937. And he, Philip, has a destination, which is a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field, where his father is buried.

His father had died in 1918 defending Belgium, France, and the free world.

My novel story is fictional, but it depicts some tragic truth about what goes on in this perilous world, a world that is often at war with itself. But it’s a world that occasionally catches some respite in between wars, as I did, and also as my character Philip did in the novel,

Smoke.