Remember . . .

Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Richard Paige
Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial
by Richard Paige


“These heroes are dead. They died for liberty—they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars—they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.”

~ Robert G. Ingersoll

Memorial Day is not about sales, bargains, or balloons. It’s not about hot dogs, corn on the cob or cole slaw. It’s not about a long weekend or a three-day beer binge. It is about remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, those who have given up months, years away from family and friends to protect, about those who have been willing to serve.

For my father, my other father-in-law, and my husband—veterans all who gave service to this country.

Music by Loreena McKennitt, “Dante’s Prayer”

“And don’t play the hero, there is no past or future.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Spoken from the Hedgerows”

Soldier at the Vietnam Memorial (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

“Beg mercy, beg darkness for obscurity—
We do not comprehend the awe, it comprehends us—” ~ Dan Beachy-Quick, from “Heroisms, 4, 5”

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

~ Yusef Komunyakaa

“Perfect valor is to behave, without witnesses, as one would act were all the world watching.” ~ François de la Rochefoucau

   

 

“Four things support the world: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the good, and the valor of the brave.” ~ Muhammad 

Memorial Day is upon us again. I won’t bother to harp on how this day—which was created to honor our fallen, our warriors, our heroes—has turned into yet another shopping extravaganza, a three-day weekend heralding beach weather, a day off from work with pay. Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. The first known celebration was after the Civil War in 1866 in Waterloo, New York, to honor fallen Union soldiers.

In 1971, the name was officially changed to Memorial Day as part of the Uniform Holidays Bill, which created three three-day weekends: President’s Day, Veterans’ Day, and Memorial Day. In 1978, Veterans’ Day was changed back to its original date of November 11. The VWF has long taken issue with the official date change from May 30 to the last Monday in May as having “undermined the very meaning of the holiday” (2002 address).

In my own attempt to honor those who serve, I thought that I would do a post on something quite timely: I came across this piece by Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball.” Matthews is one of my favorite political analysts. He isn’t afraid to be enthusiastic, nor is he reluctant to admit that he might be wrong. But I felt that this particular piece about a gay man in the military is wholly appropriate for Memorial Day. The sexual orientation of the person who stands next to you when you go into battle matters less than the person’s ability to do his or her job, less than that individual’s belief in country, less than that man or woman’s commitment to having the back of the man or woman five feet away. 

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more about “Chris Matthews: DADT“, posted with vodpod

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was essentially a slap in the face, yet another thing that Clinton backpeddled on and soft soaped. Gays have been serving in the military for as long as there has been war. If you don’t believe that, then your head is stuck somewhere, not sure where. And these people deserve the right to have their partners informed when they are hurt, or worse, killed in action. These dedicated men and women deserve no less and no more than anyone else in their companies, their units, their battalions. 

Memorial Day is a day to remember, a day to pause and reflect. Memorial Day should be the same for everyone because blood that is shed runs red, regardless of faith, orientation, political belief, or color.  I long for the day when there will be no need to send our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, daughters and sons to war, but I know that that time will not come in my lifetime. 

 

Peace be with you all. 

The incomparable Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful”
 

 

The New American Dream: Barack Obama’s Speech to the DNC

I watched the Democratic National Convention last week with a sense of nostalgia. I hadn’t seen the Dems this pumped since Clinton/Gore. For the first time in a long time, the party actually pulled it off: Hillary and Bill got on board; Kerry delivered the speech he should have delivered four years ago; Al Gore was polished, but he should have paused just a bit more. But Biden, Biden delivered big time for Barack Obama and set the stage for the Thursday night speech that ran 42 minutes and left this full-time cynic actually willing to believe again. More people tuned in to watch this man speak than watched the opening of the Olympics, and that alone should tell you something. The first outdoor acceptance speech since JFK was predicted to be light on substance and heavy on political rhetoric, in other words, dream-filled and abstract.

Obama’s speech was packed with proposed policy details, specifically the country’s current economic crisis. It was bold and liberal and unifying. His speech contained strong statements such as this: “We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe.” I actually got chills. Remarkable. In a less effective speaker’s hands, the words would not have had such a dramatic effect.

The man is a born orator, the kind this country hasn’t seen since JFK. He knows how to reach beyond rhetoric and touch the hearts of the common man and woman who are aching to hear something that will give them something to cling to. Like this: “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this . . . We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.”

I know that I want to be part of a better country than the American of these last eight years. I know that I do not want another four years of the same, no matter how honorable McCain is as a person. We need more than a man who is respected by many people because of his past deeds but who believes that America is on the right track. And Obama was clearly aware of this difference by targeting McCain’s policies in his speech, but never attacking the man himself.

And for those who still want to believe in some type of American Dream, hold on to this:

“You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

“We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put away a little extra money at the end of each month so that you can someday watch your child receive her diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

……….

“And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.”

The American Dream may have been lost for a while. We may have forgotten how to dream because we were so busy just trying to make do in this harsh reality that has been our lives–the lives in which milk costs $6 a gallon and bread almost $2 a loaf; health insurance is a luxury for many, and dental insurance is completely out of reach. City public schools have classroom sizes of up to 40. A college education without assistance for most families is not possible. The infant mortality rate for the U.S. still ranks with some third world countries. Some of our warriors are on their third tour of duty in Iraq. Foreclosures on homes continue to rise, as do the number of bankruptcies. Families in which both parents work, forcing more latchkey children, continue to become the necessity, not the exception. Three years after Katrina, we still have people who have not been helped. So tell me, is it any wonder that our dreams have taken a back seat? The have-nots far outnumber the haves, yet those who continue to live with platinum parachutes and bypass paying taxes through loopholes don’t have to wonder about the price of gas, bread, or milk, and health insurance is hardly a concern.

Yet the intrepid doers still hold on. We still put out our flags on Memorial Day and the 4th of July because something in us continues to believe in this country of ours. And with luck, perhaps more people than ever will exercise their right to vote this November, instead of taking that right for granted. I don’t care if they are voting because they don’t want a black man as president or a woman as vice president. At least they are participating in the process, and that is their right, whether or not I agree with their choice.

But dammit, at least they have that right, and with any luck, maybe they’ll have a taste of a new American Dream, or at least a remembrance of the old one. We deserve that. We all deserve that. It is not too much to hope for. I refuse to believe that.