Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

Wanda’s Day — I Won

May 11th, 2014

When my mother lived, I sent her or handed to her Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards and gifts. She played both roles from her divorce before I was 5.

wandacollegeAlso, I initiated a running patter related to the era…about what the dull-witted still call broken homes.  As early boomers, my sister and I were among a large and growing cohort. Many of our parents had married in the passions following WWII, only to discover they had no business together. Many were like my mother, Wanda, with one, two or three kids but no basis for staying married.

In her case, her husband was the handsome war hero (Battle of the Bulge and so forth) and she had been the campus queen, theater star and scholar. They made each other swoon, wed and two years later produced first my sister then less than two years later me. It was only when we were part of the Occupation Army in Japan that both Wanda and Bob wondered what the devil they were doing married to that stranger. They were OK when he was off in Korea directing artillery shells, but face-to-face they wanted different things. She wanted a union of equals as her parents had and he a woman to order him around as his mother had his father. Incompatible.

Bob took up with a bossy woman, they divorced, he remarried, and Wanda asked only for us kids and minimal child support (no alimony request). Then Bob and his second wife became deadbeats. He got a transfer to Germany with his new family of two sons, my half-brothers. He stopped paying child support as soon as he left the country. Wanda asked the US Army for help. They replied that as an officer he was honorable and they trusted him to fulfill his obligations, and would do nothing.

The humor in all of this and character-revealing aspect, is that Wanda never, ever bad-mouthed Bob to my sister and me. She would note that he was smart and good looking and yes, a war hero. It was only on one our moves when I found both divorce proceedings and those from when my sister and I were visiting Bob and his second wife in OK when he decided they would keep us and take us to Germany that I learned of and asked about his chicanery.  Wanda drove to OK from eastern WV with her father, who was in a cast from his heel to his waist from a work accident to fight for and reclaim her children.

She truly loved us. She showed it in ways big and small.

Oddly and with brutal irony, I found that Bob’s second wife did not have my mother’s grace, honesty and compassion. I have never been in her presence or on the phone with her when she did not slander and lie about Wanda. For a few examples, she would say that it was Wanda who was in an adulterous relationship in Japan, not she and Bob in Korea, or that she and Bob did not even meet until they were back Stateside — both total lies. More amusing to me was defending their decision not to pay child support, because they, with two military salaries and Army subsidies just couldn’t afford support, with no consideration of a single mom with two kids, or even the court orders.

The gist of that is that I won the Mom Game.

I grew up moving every few years as Wanda took jobs in challenged Red Cross chapters to support us. Invariably, I meet other kids, particularly boys, who were being raised by divorced moms. Just as invariably, nearly every one of those sons heard constantly what cads men were (what kind of insulting message is that for a future man?). Meanwhile, Wanda never defamed her ex.

As I grew, I came to realize Wanda differed from many mothers and fathers. A defining trait was her rationality. Key was her posture that if my sister and I had better reasons for courses of action, we’d win. That was both a burden to us, but great freedom. She expected and demanded that we live rationally. As a result, many friends over the years said they so wished their parents were like Wanda. Their parents were arbitrary, often violent to them (abusers call that discipline), and as often alcohol infused. She neither hit us nor was ever drunk in my childhood.

I now recall so many motherly things she did for me, some of which I did not know about until many years later. For one, in eighth grade, she got a call from the principal asking for a conference with all of my teachers. The Red Cross chapter building adjoined the school’s athletic fields and she knew the principal from running first-aid, home-nursing and water-safety programs. She walked into an ambush of irate educators.

The core of it was that I asked questions in several classes that were not in the courses or assigned text books. We had many reference books, including three sets of encyclopedia, at home. From second grade, when I asked a question, Wanda would invariably reply, “Look it up.” I did and we’d discuss it.  I knew a lot and rather expected my teachers to have such curiosity.

As Wanda told me years later when she revealed the meeting during my college years, she was amused, not angry, at the teachers. She said she asked them whether the problem was that I asked them questions they could not answer. She said they replied, “Yes,” with the anticipation that she’d realize I was out of bounds. She said she replied, “Well, then don’t you think you’d better find out the answers and be ready for the next time someone asks?” That apparently was the end of the meeting and their chance to shame her.

I won the Mom Game and I didn’t even know I was playing.

Here’s an ethereal but sincere Happy Mother’s Day, Wanda.


Daunting Sound Tracks

September 7th, 2011

September 11 in Boston carries that odd guilt along with the sadness and anger virtually all Americans feel. Just this week, I’ve heard and read more from people ashamed a decade later that the terrorists left from Logan that morning.

That night, I became aware, frighteningly aware, of what we heard and did not hear…in our skies.

Many country folk as well as virtually all city dwellers have commercial aircraft as ambient noise. The hums, drones and occasional roars are literally in the air of modern life. For the vast majority of us who are not very close to airports, these sounds are only remarkable in odd conditions, like huge banks of heavy clouds that amplify the engines.

So around here on 9/11 and two weeks after, two sonic phenomena changed it all for us. First, no commercial or private aircraft were allowed anywhere in our local skies. We were inured to the jet noises, low, powerful and distant…and suddenly we were aware of what was not above us by its absence.

Then, far less frequently, we’d hear the fighter jets. Military planes patrolled far too frequently after 9/11. If the intent was partially to comfort Bostonians, it failed. Those were war machine, as unlike regular airplanes as PT boats are to yachts. These wailed above us, “People want to kill us. We are ready to kill them first.”

figherjetAs a child, I recall hearing military jets at night. Those were rare, as I did not live near airbases, even though I was born on an Army base (artillery). Fighters on night training and maneuvers would occasionally pass over where I was living. That, in fact, was both comforting and exciting. To us boomers, particularly boys, we romanticized WWII as our parents had. Jets with machine guns and missiles under their wings were the stuff both of plastic models and puerile fantasies.

My childhood also brought the Soviet menace and yellow peril scares that remain with at least the early boomers in odd ways. To hear the TV reporters, pols, and our parents say it then, the Chinese maybe and the Russian commies for sure were likely to attack at any moment.

They of course remembered Pearl Harbor and the horrors of the war. We were unborn fruits of their relieved return and celebration, not living that except through movies and books. As the Korean Police Action (as it was originally euphemized) plodded its bloody way, we were subject to regular terror drills in anticipation of a Russian missile assault.

duck-and-coverWhat now might seem comical to today’s youth sure wasn’t then. The dreadful duck-and-cover drills and films spoke to the hopeless of the nation within the reach of annihilation at any moment. Asininely, teachers would have my entire generation tucking ourselves under our desks in the even of a missile attack, as though that offered any meaningful protection.

Moreover, we were conditioned to a sound virtually unknown to modern youth — air-raid sirens. Cacophonous loudspeakers on poles are largely gone, but were ubiquitous after WWII, originally left over from the war, but put to scary good use to warn and/or terrify the children.

When we heard the sirens and the concomitant or alternating Civil Defense alerts on the radio, we never knew whether it was a drill or death. Hell of a way to grow up. To this day, boomers’ hearts thump and lungs heave hearing those siren bellows if we’re near a place that still tests them.

Then in high school and college, Latin and Greek professors would have us read commentary from ancient historians about such terror. They wrote of the very real possibilities of their city-state or such being totally destroyed by war, with those who survived enslaved by the conquerors. In fact, then the likelihood was great. A single battle could literally decimate an army, killing a tenth. A war could mean a people disappear.

As a boomer, I related to that, as we all do now in the new age of terrorism. People have feared destruction by those sworn enemies for a long time and usually for good reasons.

It is not a way we would choose to live, but it is how we do live.

I’d like to say the boomers as a group survived, with some implication that all is swell. Yet, we boomers were scared and scarred by the fears of death and war where we lived. We still feel it and the post-9/11 version heaps on more of the same. I am sad that my children also think and feel that there are bad people who would kill them, lots of them, any time. The best outcome would be if we and they and their children if necessary can work to restructure our world so that children can stop feeling those fears.

Honor Partially Paid at Camp Meigs

July 19th, 2011

Sterling rhetoric, but tin foil action has been the sporadic focus on Boston’s Camp Meigs. I trotted down this afternoon and confirmed that there is little local glory for the Glory Brigade.

meigsTwo months ago, two Globe contributors, Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki, raised a weak huzzah to the sub-sub-neighborhood historical site. They called, meekly, for a second Freedom Trail, which would include this 2.8 acre neglected locale in the Southernmost part of the Southernmost part of Boston.

That’s pretty much been the norm since 1866. The eruption of honor appeared in 1897 across from the MA state house, in the form of the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. While the gigantic relief piece shows the African American soldiers, the monument in art and name is of course for the white commanding officer. The all-black 54th, 55th and 5th are fairly extras in their drama, typical of the time.

Maybe 10 miles South, they drilled and prepared for war, the first fighting forces of black men in this country. In what was Dedham and became Readville/Hyde Park, the camp was the focus of the training…not that you’d know it now.

A visit just below the Neponset Valley Parkway doesn’t make you hum patriotic tunes. Sharing a large rectangular block park, the Camp Meigs site is the smallest portion of a basketball court, softball field, kid’s playground and tennis courts. Where you see the green circle I overlaid on the Google map above, is the evidence. There’s kind of an open ground where the small group of reenactors and educators occasionally sets up. They also take their depiction on the road, including in Boston.

There is a cemetery size and style stone and and an embarrassing fake cannon. The miniature, concrete cannon has graffiti. The stone is OK, with basic-facts on front and a Frederick Douglass quote from 1863 on the back. The latter reads that once the black soldier is outfitted for war “…there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned thie right to citizenship in the United States.”

That’s a start.

Warning or Promise: I had a good time reviewing the ancient HP publications that included Meigs coverage. I’ll do more later this summer on conditions during the Civil War, food, gear and such.

For a wider view on Camp Meigs, I prefer the tone on an address by a D. Eldredge given in 1906 to the Meigs Memorial Association and the Hyde Park Historical Society. (Search for Meigs in the linked text to read it all.)

Let me say that Hyde Park may well be proud of its delightful suburb, proud that so historic a spot is an integral part of the town. Proud may the dwellers at Readville be, for here, beneath our very feet, nearly fifty years ago, thousands marched up and down and upon this plain. The rattle of musketry, the bugle’s blast, the rat-a-tat-tat of the drum, the clanking of the sabre, the neighing steed and the roar of cannon became familiar sounds.

meigsmonumentHere the very flower of the youth of this good old Commonwealth of ours gathered themselves together as a mighty phalanx. Here they learned the art of war, bade fond mother and father, or wife, the sad good bye and marched away. Thousands never came back; other thousands perished upon the battle-field, or in the hospital or the dreadful southern prison. Yet other thousands of the wounded and the sick were sent here to the hospital that they might be near to those they loved and that they might be tenderly nursed.

May these memories, these facts, be kept green, and may the Meigs Memorial Association slack not its hand, but see to it that this and coming generations who make their homes here shall know that this is historic ground, that here was the largest military camp in New England, that soldiers went forth from here to a war such as no man had ever seen.

The land itself turns out to link to the artifact Paul’s Bridge. That farmer, Ebenezer Paul, was surprised by men from the MA governor’s office squatting on is land and, “It is related that the first that Ebenezer Paul knew of any designs upon his land as a camping ground, was his sudden discovery one morn of two or three men sitting under one of the long rows of elms, a few of which are now standing, and his cows gazing upon them with interest.” Supposedly he got $300 a year rental for it.

After the war, he sold his whole farm for $20,000. The local Dedham Gazette editorialized, “”We had hoped,” said the editor, ” that the ground would have been consecrated to some public purpose.”

It was, in a weak way, on July 4th, 1903. There was a splash first. The ceremony had speeches, a commissioned poem, drum rolls and such. A former soldier from the period, Augustus S. Lovett, Esq. also spoke. His rambling and personal address included near the end:

To all these 25,000 or more martial spirits we dedicate this scene of their first soldier days. Long may the cannon preserve their present peaceful positions! Never may the time come when the Star Spangled Banner shall cease to float over this consecrated ground, and may children’s children to the latest generation swell the chorus of the Union saved, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Over a century later, the wee park dominated by playgrounds and a portable toilet may not fulfill that hope.

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Mike Didn’t Go for a Soldier

November 12th, 2007

This is a cross-post from yesterday’s entry at Marry in Massachusetts. It actually is more personal than political and is apter here.

Pic Click Trick: Click on a thumbnail image for a larger view.

sheavesVeteran’s Day likely has connotations for most of us and catalyzes various emotions.In a real sense, I was born in the military — at Ft. Sill Station Hospital. My father was an artillery commander. My silver baby cup reads my name and birthday, and that it is from “OFFICERS AND LADIES” of the 17th field artillery battalion. When I was six months old, we headed off as part of the occupation army in Japan, from where my father also forayed into Korea to fight some more.He and many uncles and great uncles got their wounds and medals in WWII and Korea. Moreover, my maternal grandfather had the odd distinction in our family of having snuck off underage to join the American Expeditionary Force in Europe in WWI. He was the age of my youngest now, whom I can’t imagine in combat.

My parents divorced when he returned from Korea and they actually got to know each other. They had no business marrying and had the sense to quit. She raised me. Subsequently, he remarried and has two other sons, both of whom for some inexplicable reason spent a few years in the military. They also felt as I, that they had served military service long before they could join, and they don’t understand why they did it.

I was of the age that saw our last military draft. The Army was determined to draft me the minute I got out of college and sent me letters to that effect. They had a place in Southeast Asia for me to go. In the first draft lottery, the day before my birthday was 341 of 365 and the day after it was 360. They took boys through 195. My birthday was 104.

I had no intention of going nor any of heading to Canada. I knew the war was wrong, fought for the wrong purposes and a waste of the lives of all who died there.

I dearly loved my grandfather, a remarkable man. Yet I knew he had been an eager fighter in WWI, going when it wasn’t necessary. He had also been active since in the VFW and AmVets, even holding such offices as state chaplain in the former. I felt I couldn’t even discuss it with him.

One summer day, I was sitting on the front porch in his little town, watching the apple and peach orchards on the mountain before me. I actually was hoping for a rain storm. Most of the time, you can see the cloud come up and over the mountain like an angry, dark beast. You can watch it flow down and see the rain drenching the trees and head to town.

However, my grandfather had something to say when he joined me. He told me that he knew well that I had always been gentle and preferred to reason rather than fight. Then, he said that if he were my age, he would not go to fight in Vietnam, that it was not a just war for good causes. Then, he handed me a C.O. letter that he had drafted without my asking or even implying. He said if anyone he knew was against war, it was I.

I was surprised. I was stunned and could only thank him. Of course, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. He had known me from before I occupied Japan.

By the bye, I did not apply for conscientious objector status. Instead, I told the military that I would not fight, but if they needed a photographer or reporter, I wasn’t afraid to go. I told them I would not carry arms in that war.

They sent C.O. papers. I returned them saying I wasn’t applying for that status, rather that I absolutely wouldn’t fight in that war. After three rounds of this, they eventually changed my 1-A (report for duty) status to a 3-A (the same as guys with a bunch of kids).

Yes, I’m glad the Germans didn’t win either World War. Nearly everyone alive owes a huge gratitude to those who fought, those who supported and those who died. Not every veteran was or is a hero, but enough have been and the stakes have been so high, that this day and other days we are right to treat them all as such.

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