“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pentagon War Dead

Fallen Troops on Transport Plane Arriving at Dover Delaware

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.” ~ John McCain

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ Jose Narosky

(Yes, I—screaming liberal that I am—have begun my post with a quote by John McCain. I know that this choice probably surprises those of you who have read me on a regular basis and know how much I opposed McCain’s bid for president. That being said, I will in no way dishonor the service that Senator McCain gave to this country, nor diminish the sacrifices that he and his family made. And as I was searching for the perfect quote to begin my post, I happened upon this one by McCain. I believe that his quote, spoken as someone who has seen war firsthand, sums up exactly what I am trying to say.)

Yesterday was Good Friday. I did not post. I was absorbed in my own little world, sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book. Days like that are meant to be enjoyed and appreciated. And that is what I did.

But then, I went to bed early as I was not feeling well. How many times have I written that in this blog, “not feeling well”? I’ve lost count.

Today when I finally got myself moving, I was trying to think about what I wanted to post. What’s on my mind? What am I thinking about? What might catch a reader’s interest? So I sat down and began my usual routine by reading my comments first, always something from Maureen on White Orchid, and an interesting comment by my friend Sarah. Then I went to My Comments section in my dashboard.

This section on Word Press lets you keep track of threads of which you have become a part. So I was thinking about how aggravating it is to continue to see comments on a thread in which I have absolutely no interest, when I saw a thread from WillPen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/), one of my favorite blogs.

“I finally saw that the story was not about the media at all. It was about honoring the heroes who sacrifice their lives to serve us all. ” ~ Courtney Kube

The comment made in the thread, which was regarding a previous post on WillPen’s site, was posted by regular visitor, Starshine, who always shares interesting tidbits and feeds to good posts. But this one brought me up short. It was a link to two different Daily KOS posts, both about U.S. casualties in the wars.

The first post, by greenies, was entitled IGTNT: With A Family’s Permission We Bear Witness. IGTNT, which stands for “I Got The News Today,” marked a bittersweet anniversary with this post: five years of posts in memory and gratitude to our fallen service members and their families.(http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/9/718378/-IGTNT:-With-a-Familys-Permission,-We-Bear-Witness).

The second post, entitled No One Could Have Asked For A Better Brother, was by noweasels (see link below), and although quite long, it was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend both posts to anyone who cares about our troops. The post brought to mind that the first anniversary passed in February of the death of one of my friend’s fiances. He was a U.S. Navy Seal, and he had already been in Iraq and Afghanistan far too many times. But it was what he did, what he loved to do, and he died serving his country in the company of his brothers, his Seal unit.
 

 

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” ~ Aeschylus

military-flag-draped-caskets1In February of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the lift of the 18-year ban by the Pentagon on media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war victims arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The ban was imposed by Bush senior during the first Iraq war. Many people argued that the ban was the administration’s attempt to hide the very human cost of war so that the country would stand behind the president’s actions.

Others, Republicans and Democrats, have argued vociferously that the ban should be lifted: “We should honor, not hide, flag-draped coffins,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “They are a symbol of the respect, honor and dignity that our fallen heroes deserve.”

Sunday, April 5 marked the first time that the media was allowed to witness the ritual of returning the remains of fallen U.S. service members.

While I have long been vocal about how this imposed cloak was a disservice to our fallen warriors, there are others who are still opposed to lifting the ban, citing the possible misuse of the images for anti-war propaganda. Apparently, those families who do not want any pictures to be taken or any videos shot will have the final say in their participation. I can respect that need for privacy and hope that the media does as well.
 
Courtney Kube, Pentagon Producer for NBC News, movingly comments that “While the family witnesses the event just a few yards away from the media, the Dover rules strictly prohibit the media from taking any photos of them. Even though we all do our best to avert our eyes and give them their privacy, their presence is palpable and heartbreaking.”  (http://fieldnotes.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/04/08/1885755.aspx).

“If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.”  ~ Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

But we must remember, the images of war help to educate the public. During the Viet Nam war, the images sent back home from war photographers and the footage beamed into American living rooms became the initiation of the American public to the stark realities of war. No heroic songs. No heroic slogans. Only young men dying in a brutal war that divided the nation in every conceivable way: class, race, and politics to name but the obvious.

That is why I was completely dismayed by the continued non-coverage during this Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan. My belief is that if the people in our society and societies of other countries participating in these wars—regardless of political party affiliations— see the ultimate sacrifices made, then the war will cease to be an abstract idea, something thousands of miles away in a distant land that doesn’t really affect our day-to-day lives.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.” ~ Herodotus

But war isn’t distant. It isn’t abstract. War is ugly, and it is brutal. And it should affect our day-to-day lives. As Americans, we should always be mindful of the prices paid to keep our country free, that these prices affect families in our own hometowns and neighborhoods every day of every week of every year that we are involved in battle.

The following statistics are taken from a Daily KOS post by noweasels:

To date, 4266 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Iraq. The death toll thus far in 2009 is already 45. More than 31,000 members of the military have been wounded, many grievously. The Department of Defense Press Releases, from which the information at the start of each entry in this diary was drawn, can be seen here. The death toll among Iraqis is unknown, but is at least 200,000 and quite probably many times that number.

To date, 676 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The death toll thus far for 2009 is 46. 452 members of the military from other countries have also lost their lives. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/10/718820/-IGTNT:-No-one-could-have-asked-for-a-better-brother).

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

army-bugler1
Army Bugler at Military Cemetery

My father’s own casket was draped with the U.S flag at his funeral. He had a 21-gun salute. A veteran of World War II and Korea, and a non-military veteran of Viet Nam, he fought for a country that was not his original homeland. He earned a Bronze Star with valor. He earned the right to that flag-draped casket and that salute. And as much as it tore my heart out, he earned the right to have “Taps” played when he was laid to rest.

Fading light
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky
Gleaming bright
From afar
Drawing nigh
Falls the night.
 
 

Major General Daniel Butterfield

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” ~ Hugo Black, Supreme Court Justice

The wars in which our country has been immersed since Bush 2’s declaration of victory continue today. Tomorrow, someone may have a knock on the door that they never could have foreseen and have prayed intently against ever hearing.

For too long, the citizens of this country have not been allowed to grieve collectively about our fallen military men and women. Without imposing upon the rights of their families, I believe that the lift of this ban could be healthy for our country. As one person commented on Kube’s story:

When you cry for and mourn a fallen soldier (especially one that you didn’t know), I believe that you are really mourning all of the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. I think that witnessing and really feeling these moments allows us to realize just how much the sacrifices these men and women have made actually mean to us.

and another:

I caught myself wanting to stand during the ceremony in my den.  This is something that this country has been missing since the war in Iraq started—honoring those who have given their lives.  We need never forget the sacrifices of the fallen heroes and their families.

“If we don’t bear witness as citizens, as people, as individuals, the right that we have had to life is sacrificed. There is a silence, instead of a speaking presence.” ~ Jane Rule

boots-and-rifles-memorial
Soldier's Cross: Boots, Rifles, Helmets, and Dogtags of the Fallen

We must continue to bear witness, as painful as that may be. We must continue to hold in our hearts and our thoughts our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and school mates. It is the very least that we can do.

So the next time I complain about not feeling well, about having a headache, or how my back is in so much pain, I need to remind myself that I am here in my house, writing what I want to write, when I want to write it because of the men and women who haven’t had a real shower in weeks, who sleep without pillows and soft mattresses, who wear the same dirty clothes day after day, who carry with them the smallest of talismans to remind them of home.

I must admit that they are doing what I could not. Many are over in that desert for the third or fourth time. Living in a community filled with military families, I am aware that people all around me are waiting for their loved ones’ safe return, and hoping against hope not to get  the letter and the knock on the door.

And so I will leave you with this quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a video to remind you that your bad day will never be as bad as those who have been sent to war:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

 

 

If the content on this post has offended anyone in any way, I apologize.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

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Where Reality and Television Intersect at the Line of Pain and Heartbreak

Stumbling Upon Two Posts That Won’t Let Me Go

Watching Death in South Africa

One of the things that I really like about blogging communities is that when the blogs are flashing by on the screen, you can come across some real gems. In fact, that’s how I’ve met all of my regular correspondent with whom I check in daily. But there was one blog that stopped me in my tracks, literally. And I backtracked to the original post, which came from a blog called “Letting Go.” 

The female speaker on this site has many entries about her recovering battle with alcoholism and her so far successful sobriety, as well as her travels. But the one particular post that caught my attention was called called “The Plague Years” ( http://louisey.wordpress.com/2009/01/04/the-plague-years/).

mourning-in-zimbabwe
Mourning in Zimbabwe

This post is incredibly stark in its depiction of the reality of AIDS in Africa, while at the same time being very moving in how the author shares with readers her own experiences amid all of this devastation.

Woke up this morning and thought about having to go to two funerals later today, both of them for young people who died of AIDS. It is not a certainty that the funerals will take place because the municipality still has to organise workers to dig the graves. The graveyard has overflowed the old fenced area and extended down the hillside, hot rocky ground that is not easy to dig. Every day of the week there are burials and it is mostly children who die because their little bodies are too malnourished to fight the opportunistic illnesses.

There are times when I feel this plague will never end. I have been going to funerals here and in Zimbabwe, in Kenya and Botswana and Mozambique since 1985, more than 20 years, and sometimes I feel I will keep watching these premature and unnecessary deaths until I myself am ready for the grave.

The society in which we live shapes us for better or for worse. The material conditions of our lives shape our values and sense of community and altruism, and limit or enlarge the possibilities open to us. Unrelieved poverty opens the door to plagues such as cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and AIDS. If we have no africsaidspicretrovirals because the government does not want to believe AIDS really exists, thousands are condemned to death. If we have no AA or Alanon because nobody will admit he or she is alcoholic or battling to live with an alcoholic spouse, the struggle to stay sober is that much harder. If it is taboo to speak about AIDS or alcoholism so that there is no education in schools or on the television or radio, the lethal ignorance continues unabated. The discourses around shame and secrecy are the hardest to tackle.

All around me on this bright lovely morning there are birds singing, church bells tolling, childrens’ voices on the playing fields across the road — and all I can hear is the deafening silence of a conspiracy to prevent anyone from speaking the truth. It is forbidden to speak about sexuality in Xhosa, especially if you are a woman. The churches outlaw the use of condoms. And the death rate keeps soaring.

Here are some facts just about one of the countries involved in this epidemic: Zimbabwe is the third largest HIV/AIDS burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to an AIDS fact sheet distributed in 2005 by the Kaiser Foundation. That means that almost 2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and at least 120,000 of them are children. Young women between the ages of 15 to 25 make up about 77 percent of the infected population, and the projected life expectancy for females ranges from 30 to 34.

In a January 2008 article The Boston Globe cited the following statistics:

  • An April report by WHO and two other UN agencies said only 6 percent of children in need of treatment were getting it.
  • The government reports that more than 2,200 Zimbabweans die every week of AIDS complications.
  • According to the World Health Organization, 321,000 people need antiretroviral medicines, or ARVs, and only 91,000 have access to them.

As If That Wasn’t Enough To Hurt Your Heart

Thanks to another blogger with whom I have recently begun to correspond, I am now obsessed with watching “West Wing”  YouTube videos of memorable scenes. For example, from one of the earlier seasons, there is the episode called “Excelsis Deo” in which Toby is moved by the plight of a decorated homeless veteran who died wearing a coat that Toby had donated to charity. The coat still had Toby’s business card in it, so he was informed of the man’s death. The episode ends with the Dire Straits’ song “Brothers in Arms” playing in the background, the White House staff being serenaded to Christmas Carols by a children’s choir, and Toby in Arlington Cemetery with a full honor guard.

Okay. They could have stopped with just the full honor guard. That by itself is enough to give me goosebumps at anytime. Thank god they didn’t put me through the bugler’s “Taps.” I did have to make it through the folding of the flag and presentation on bended knee to the family member. Yes, I am crying openly by now. The link to this particular scene is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfOfUtkbiHQ.

west-wing-20-hours-in-america
From "The West Wing," Episode: 20 Hours in America

But wait, I’m not finished. There’s Leo’s funeral. Enough said on that one. Or, there is the famous mood episode called “The Two Cathedrals Press Conference,” in which President Bartlett is asked if he is going to run again; that’s a classic for the staging alone. All of Bartlett’s team fall into line behind their President, and the scene is a shot of just the men from the thighs down.

But the single best scene from any episode of “West Wing,” the scene that embodies the best of Aaron Sorkin’s writing for his tenure on the show, the scene that I dare you to watch and not be moved by, comes from the epiode  “20 Hours in America.” In it, President Bartlett delivers one of the best speeches to be heard ever—not just television speeches, not just pretend president speeches, but best speeches ever. The rhetoric in it burns.

Just a taste (but without the video, it’s like reading Obama’s speeches rather than hearing them):

“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless.”

(I don’t even want to think of how badly W. would have mangled this. How do you type visually shuddering?)

And I so want to put the link in here, but I don’t know if that would be stealing from Willpen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/) since she just ran the YouTube link on her site. So go to her site and watch the video there, and be sure to let her know that I sent you. It’s worth the hop and skip to see this. Trust me.

So, now that I have completely ruined your day and evening with truth and near truth, and the power of words to hold the human heart, let me close. There will be more later. Peace.

Veterans’ Day: A Memorial to My Father

dad-sailor-boy
Dad on the Far Right

My father, Exequiel Liwag, was not a man who liked to call attention to himself. For example, it was not until we were going through his personal items after he died that we found out that he had won the Bronze Star for Valor during World War II. But that was how he was: unassuming.

He loved thrift stores, even though he could afford to wear better, he didn’t really see the point. He loved his 1966 Ford Falcon. That was his baby. He adored his grandchildren, and when he found out that he had pancreatic cancer, the one thing that he said that he regretted was that he wouldn’t be around to see them grow up. He loved to work in his garden, and he used his machete from the war to hack away at the weeds, squatting down on his haunches like a native, doing battle with crab grass and weeds. And he loved to fish. He would go off at night and fish off the old Harrison’s pier, the wooden one before the hurricane washed it away. (He would hate the new one, all rebuilt and yuppie with bright lights and a cafe.)

My dad, like many Filipino men of his generation, first served in the Philippine guerrilla army before joining the U.S. Navy. However, the difference is that he lied about his age. He was barely 17 when he joined the Navy, and he had already seen combat in the jungles of the Philippines. His family had hidden in the caves for safety from the Japanese, and his mother lost the youngest children in the family, twin babies, because of the harsh conditions and a lack of food. My dad joined the Navy so that he could send money back to his family, something he did for many years after the war was long over, which enabled his brothers and sister to come to the states to get educations and better lives.

He also served during the Korean conflict—never really called a war, and then he had a breather during which he had extended shore duty, heading the household staffs for several admirals, which is how I came to attend public school in London. While he was still on Navy ships, my dad slipped on an icy gangplank while disembarking and injured his back, an injury that caused him back pain for the rest of his life.

He retired from the Navy after putting in his 20 years, and he tried to stay on dry land, but it wasn’t for him, so he joined the merchant marines, which is how he came to be in the middle of yet another war: the Viet Nam war. During this conflict his ship took on heavy fire, and we received word that his ship was badly damaged. For a while, we did not know his fate because, of course, the world was not wired the way that it is today, and it took much longer to get news.

Luckily, he was not hurt, and he was just transferred to another ship. During Viet Nam, his tours were six to nine months at a time, and he was always in harms’ way.

I don’t ever remember him complaining. I just remember his body slowly curving more and more over the years. His left hand atrophied as the muscle wore away, and his back always ached. But he stayed at sea until he couldn’t go any more.

My father came from a country thousands of miles away. His risked his life time and time again, first for his family in the Philippines, and later for his new country and his family in the United States. He never questioned whether or not he was doing the right thing. He believed that his country, the United States of America was the greatest country in the world. He sang the national anthem off-key, but he sang it proudly. He saluted his flag, and he believed in his country.

There were times when his country let him down. When we tried to live in the Philippines after he retired, he wasn’t allowed the same benefits as other retirees. I was too young to remember why, but I remember that it happened, and that my parents were upset by this. I remember, too, that he was upset when he found out that the money that he had been paying into survivor benefits for my mother wasn’t going to amount to very much and that he could have been paying that money into an interest-bearing account that would have yielded much more. But he had invested into the U.S. Government, never thinking for one minute that his government would not protect him and my mother.

When my father died, he was entitled to a veteran’s funeral: a flag-draped casket and a 21-gun salute. We requested that “Taps” be played. Actually, I made that request. I had no idea that unless you were some kind of officer of rank, you didn’t actually get a bugle player; you got a cassette tape version of “Taps,” which, I suppose, is better than nothing. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in any way. It was just a shock to the system to hear a tinny cassette and not a proud bugle.

Pretty much everything I learned about honor and duty I learned from my father. He worked hard all of his life, and he devoted a large part of that life to this country. He came from a small country thousands of miles away, just a boy really, and he gave this country whatever it asked of him.

I once said that if had to vote for only one issue in this past election, it would be for veterans’ rights, and I stand by that. How a country treats the men and women who serve it and die for it is a direct reflection of how that country feels about its citizenry as a whole, for its veterans represent its citizens. Our veterans go to war to protect our freedoms. They go to war so that the rest of us do not have to. They go to war so that we can say what we want whenever we want. They got to war so that I have the freedom to express myself in this blog. They go to war so that we can vote for whichever candidate we choose in a free election process. How we treat them when they come home should be as the true heroes that they are.

Our veterans should not have to fight for medical treatment. Our veterans should not have to fight for benefits. Our veterans should not be living on the street. Our veterans should never, ever be called names or be made to feel ashamed for doing what their country asked of them.

My father was a veteran. I am incredibly proud of him for the service that he gave to this country. That is only one reason that I am proud of him, but it is one of the more important ones. I still miss him terribly. But on this day, he, like thousands and thousands of others, deserves our support, our thanks, our recognition, and our undying respect.

As always, more later. Peace.

07-lost

Things that break or touch my heart or bring me to tears (in no particular order)

In the Gloaming
In the Gloaming

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings
The scene in The English Patient in which Almaszy is carrying Katherine from the Cave of the Swimmers
Finding a picture unexpectedly that I haven’t seen in years that brings back painful memories
When one of my children is hurting and there is nothing that I can do about it
The scene in the final M*A*S*H after Charles has taught the Korean musicians to play and then finds out that their truck has been blown up, and he breaks all of his records
Finding a dead baby bird
Knowing that I wasn’t with my dad when he died
Arlington Cemetery
“Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes
“Taps” played anytime
Thinking about the poem “My Mother’s Pink Sweater”
Seeing pictures of flag-draped coffins still coming home
The Viet Nam memorial
Remembering how I used to be able to hike the trails on Skyline Drive
The time Alexis brought me a dead baby rabbit and I had to bury it
All of the times the boys’ frogs died
Hearing that tone in Eamonn’s voice when he is hurting
Not hearing the water from the pond outside my bedroom window
Missing all of the wind chimes that used to hang from the rafters of the house
Not having Mari nearby on a daily basis, or Jammi, or Rebecca
The smell of baby blankets
Memories of CHKD
Richard Shelton’s poem “Letter to a Dead Father”
Not teaching college any more
Not being able to roam the galleries of the Museum when it was closed
Hearing a beautiful pipe organ well-played in an empty church
Hearing the closing Hallelujah at church
Listening to the twenty-one-gun salute at my father’s funeral
Hearing Kelly sing “Because of You” at Wanna be’s takes my breath away
The scene in Return of the King when Frodo leaves on the boat with Gandalf
Still waking up from hospital nightmares screaming and crying
Seeing that look in Brett’s eyes that lets me know that he just can’t do it today
Knowing that one of my dogs is getting too old to go on
Realizing that someone I confided in betrayed me
Waking up in pain yet again
Hearing Alexis’s voice on the other end of the phone and knowing that she is in pain
Watching the planes fly into the buildings
Memories of Caitlin’s dark brown hair
Having to acknowledge how different life has become for everyone because of my physical changes
Looking at Corey and worrying about where his dreams have taken him and just how much has been taken from him
Remembering how I used to drink in authors and pour out that knowledge to waiting minds and missing the ongoing challenge of that so much
The beauty of Ondaatje’s book The English Patient and the equally haunting beauty of David Lanz’s “Cristofori’s Dream,” together they are almost too much to bear
Finding out that I have actually been mistaken in believing in happiness
Wondering where all of the time has gone