MAY 28, 2018

THEN CAME THE LAST DAYS OF MAY

 

So anyway. The Season advanced with a profusion of poppies everywhere. On every corner, every plot, scads of golden poppies waved their crowns. Up on Bear Lake in Minnesota, the Cadillac parked on the ice had broken through amid many wagers. No one was sure what happened to these cars that year after year had been left out on the frozen lake surface only to plunge into the murky depths when the weather had warmed enough to soften the crust. Some said that it was Karl Krepsbach of Karl's Pretty Good Garage that used a tow truck and cables to haul them out to be disposed of properly, ever mindful of environmental concerns, but then, few people cared and for all we know there exists a pile of decades worth of Cadillacs and coupe de villes that sit there on the lake bottom, ready to proffer some kind of puzzle to archeology students thousands of years hence.

Whatever.

It got windy on the Island this past week, which led to some sultry air as the weekend approached. Reports of chill temps, rain and overcast skies coming from Tahoe kept people home this Memorial Day weekend.

The usual lot gathered out at the toy airplane field near Mt. Trashmore on Bay Farm Island. The WWII vets wore their caps announcing this or that ship which had sailed. The Choisin Few wore their jackets. Nammies wore their rags provided as was the manner of discharge.

Gulf war vets wore clean and neatly pressed camo fatigues.

Each age has its warriors because each age suffers the indignity of politicians starting another conflict that vainly promises to end all wars. Meanwhile our sons and daughters, friends and neighbors march off to die for another cause determined by people who have nothing to lose. Then, in the last days of May, the flags all fly at half mast to celebrate the ones who died and preserve the Past. Taps blew and guys made speeches. In the end, nothing would bring back those who had been found fallen where they lay. Some intact and some not. And no stupid speech of false gratitude from people who never risked anything at all in their lives will recompense those losses.

The Editor's brother did not go to any of these for the male bonding and the camaraderie. He had never felt a part of the Navy, but some kind of lugnut stuck in a vast apparatus that had its own creaky momentum, an apparatus stuffed with stupid orders and rules and nonsensical procedures to follow. He remembered the '67 fire on the USS Forrestal, FID, that killed so many as a FUBAR operation. All that live ordinance, massive disorganization, and the pilots flying 150 missions in a matter of hours meant something was bound to happen. A rocket misfired and hit another plane, exploding its 400 gallon fuel tank, resulting in a massive fireball.

Lieutenant Commander John McCain on deck that day had to scramble to contain the damage. But nobody could bring back the 137 sailors who died that day.

Denby stood out in the yard as night fell, thinking about Johnny and Joe who both signed up underage. Joe got discovered and sent back with a summary discharge with no recognition after seeing combat and surviving. No recognition meant no wall, no pension, no acknowledgment of having served in the Corps.

Johnny was not so lucky. He went out on point at Ap Ba and was gunned down after calling out "VC on the trail!".

Raymond, who lived across the street, existed in a bureaucratic limbo after being killed in Vietnam, until family pressure earned his name placement on the Memorial Wall.

That is the nature of that Vietnam conflict, that families have to argue and pressure and persuade to have their fallen sons memorialized.

Then came the last days of May. The Editor's son remembers. So does Denby. The Editor himself remains absent for comment, but remembers as well. Parades and flags and salutes happen everywhere and there is always so much gratitude. When it's peace it is we, we, we, but when the bullets fly, it becomes me, me, me. So quoth the officer who drove Admiral Nimitz around in a limo as the man went slowly mad. And that officer now reclines with bones dissolving because of being made to stand on watch as the Bikini A-bomb exploded.

Next time you pick a war to resolve political issues, send your own family into the morass and sure enough, it will turn out different.

As the nearly full moon rose, Denby stood in the glade with the Editor Tree while all around him swirled the images of memory that were now History. These images, however were those of people he had known. The fog crept over the ridge beyond and he recalled Johnny saying how he wanted to be respected as a super hero. So that is why he volunteered that fateful day to go out on point at Ap Ba. Now after years and years and conflict after conflict there still was war in all of its ugliness and greed. And the mist rose up around Denby's feet as if to embrace him by some power that still possessed empathy.

This is really the thing to think about each Decoration Day: how can we stop the old ones from starting another foolish war so that we can grieve without interruption our losses from the last one that was finished only a short while ago. Until then we must tell our children, "Do not heed the call-up."

It's up to you, not to heed the call up
And you must not act, the way you were brought up
Who knows the reasons, why you have grown up?
Who knows the plans or why they were drawn up?

It's up to you, not to heed the call up
I don't want to die
It's up to you, not to hear the call up
I don't want to kill

For he who will die
Is he who will kill?
Maybe I want to see the wheatfields
Over Kiev and down to the sea

(Chorus 2)

All the young people down the ages
They gladly marched off to die
Proud city father used to watch them
Tears in their eyes

(Chorus 2)

For he who will die
Is he who will kill?

There is a rose, that I want to live for
Although, God knows, I may not have met her
There is a dance and I should be with her
There is a town, unlike any other

It's up to you not to hear the call up
And you must not act, the way you were brought up
Who gives you work, why should you do it?
At fifty five minutes past eleven, there is a rose

It's up to you not to hear the call up (x2)
I don't want to die
There is a rose, that I want to live for
It's up to you not to hear the call up

The Clash

The sound of the train horn keened from Oaktown across the estuary and wended its way through the fog-shrouded Northbay's well-matriculated hills and slid over the sleeping bulk of Princess Tamalpais, as it also traversed the estuary to cross the Island and die between the Edwardian house-rows as the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shadow-shuttered Jack London Waterfront, trundling past the Ohlone burial mounds to an unknown destination.

 

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