Monday, May 26, 2008


when my mother was a little girl, her father was in the war. a young man from farmer/builder stock, wide-eyed. he could make things with his hands. he was from nowhere special - texas, small towns (which were, seventy years ago, very different from the post-eisenhower-interstate-highway-mcdonalds-disneyfication-mallizing-wallmarting-of-america that all small towns have been changed by). and he was just another young man who said yes when the country went to war with some strange people a million miles away. his name was Olan Smith.
Olan left home in central texas. he left his wife and his two little daughters. everyone was helping with the war effort - doing without things, pitching in together, working extra. raising little daughters alone while daddy's across the world.
i wonder what it must have been like for olan. far from home. boot camp. yelled at. prepared to go to war. and then told that he and his fellow new soldiers would be heading across the atlantic ocean, and engage the enemy. get shot at. and shoot. and kill. and maybe be killed. i wonder if his experience looked something like "saving private ryan," young american men over their heads confused scared courageous human fighting the nazis wondering if they'd live. i wonder what olan did to pass the time. if he was loud or quiet, did his chores, cleaned his rifle, slept well. i've seen pictures; he was tall and skinny, like i was at his age. my face isn't as long as his was. but i never met him. he went into battle with his company. and there were lots of gunshots.
my grandmother got a message. if i remember the story right, it was a telegram brought to her by her little brother, who was working at the post office.
her husband had been killed. in battle. in france, or germany, godknowswhere, someplace far away, where she'd never go, that was just an abstraction, might have been mars. but he had served bravely. and had died.
my grandmother ---- what was she supposed to do now? raise two daughters alone? grieve? how? would she have to work, get a job? between the details swirling in her head, and the faces of her little girls, and the presence of her family, and the weird stretching-ahead-with-no-direction-now future, it's no wonder that my grandmother went a little crazy, and life was scary and hard for the daughters, and life wasn't the same as it had been before.
on memorial day today i remember and honor all those people - the fathers and mothers, the children, the friends, the threads of lives that were cut off, the craziness and sadness and strengths that grew out of the telegrams and letters and messages from the front. all those who have died in battle because their country told them to, and they said yes. i don't say, "who defended their country's freedom" or whatever because just because america makes war doesn't mean it's righteous or defensive or that there's not all imaginable kinds of political bullshit involved. there is. and i speak against, and teach against, complacency in the face of sickness in giant corporate systems that dehumanize.
but if a soldier signs up to do what s/he is told, and that person is killed, i can do both. i can be angry at, and fight against, political systems that aren't healthy, that are corrupt and self-serving, and i can oppose the breakdown-in-human-reason-and-hope that is war --- and i can nevertheless honor and thank and remember those who signed up and said Yes, I'll help. With my body. I relinquish my personal freedom. I will follow orders.
including Olan.


nonprofitprophet said...

nice piece Ricky. I went and visited the graves of my mom, grandfather, and great grandfather and great uncle. ALl of those, except mom of course, were vets.
and if we did have a just war - it was that one. There was a definite line drawn between forces of good and evil in that conflict, not like latter conflicts where there was not such a clear distinction. ~npp

miskra said...

hi, rick. i like what you said about honoring those who go, and the level of commitment they make (compared to the rest of us), and the political agendas of those who send them. i once said soldiers whore for their governments, and that sounds harsh, but most heads of state move men and women around like chess pieces, and those who go and obey and don't ask too many questions, you have to want to love and respect and shake them all at the same time.

my cousin is the only relative i have who was in the military, and he served his time in the marines and now works for texas a&m in quatar - they have a veritable city made up of departments they have transplanted from american universities, and he's an it guy for them. that kind of environment is what the military prepared him and his family for. but he's one of the finest people i've ever known.

i also wanted to give you my blog address:

love to you and leslie and cait and alex - miskra