May 282012
 

There’s a White crowned sparrow who has nested in the vegetable garden. She’s picked a spot in the oregano of all places, a nifty well-made nest with four tiny eggs. Of course, every time I walk into the garden she has to leave the nest. She flies to the top of a fence pole and chirps until I’m done with what I’m doing. Then she will make her way back to the oregano taking a cautious and circuitous route. One has to admire her courage. Some of her babies might make it; others won’t. For a tiny bird life must be a continuous episode of TSHTF.

Surprisingly, the sparrow reminds me of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day just sort of pisses me off as I think about the people I personally knew who bought it in the “service of our country.” Clearly, WWII was the last “good war” if there is such a thing. That’s the last one that anyone can give a good explanation for why we fought. That big machine we created in WWII didn’t want to wind down. It had momentum and kept on rolling through Korea, Vietnam, lots of podunk skirmishes (Grenada), Iraq (twice), Afghanistan.

As an AF intelligence officer I was once invited to speak to the Officer’s Wives’ Club at a big Tactical Air Command base. Most of these young ladies were the wives of fighter pilots already deployed. They wanted some understanding of why. I told them about the “domino theory.” Remember the domino theory? A very useful theory that is in continued use with a number of variations. We had to stop the commies over there before they came over here. Subsequently we lost the commies as an enemy but then found a better oneā€”the terrorists. The terrorists have been extremely useful in helping business and government build up a huge and expensive counter-terror apparatus and keeping our gargantuan military in growth mode.

The White crowned sparrow has a few enemies; her own vision of terror. I’m certain the crows and jays will be watching, trying to get those eggs. She has few defenses besides stealth and watchfulness. No huge defense organization for her.

I stepped off a C-130 at Cam Ranh Bay in October of 1965. There were eight body bags lined up on the tarmac. Eight dead Army guys waiting for transport home. Died in the service of their country. Eight stories. Eight families multiplying the grief. Was glad I didn’t have to brief those families on “the domino theory.”

A month later on an approach to NKP in Thailand I could see smoke billowing up from the end of the runway. I was the only passenger. We had an hour layover before continuing to Ubon. I got off and had a bowl of ice cream at the club (the Air Force enjoys recreating America wherever it goes). When I got back on the C-123 there
was a body strapped to a stretcher which was strapped into a rack across from me. The pilot from the crash that made the smoke. No body bag. Just a tarp cover over the body. The C-123 tends to vibrate a lot. The dead pilot’s left arm kept shaking out from under the tarp and hanging into the aisle between he and I. I didn’t want to look at the arm so I tucked it back under the tarp. But it vibrated out again. It vibrated and I tucked. Vibrate and tuck. A macabre flight to Ubon. The dead man had a new gold band on his ring finger. I was happy that I didn’t have to explain the domino theory to his widow.

There is an understandable need to memorialize those who have died and try to rationalize their deaths as something worthwhile and heroic. Most of them were heroic to be certain but in most every case since 1945 I think they would have been better off to have stayed at home, planted a garden and observed the sparrows.

That little White crowned sparrow is probably smarter than I think she is. She senses that the garden is a safe place, a refuge with just enough human traffic to discourage her enemies. But even the government can’t leave the sparrow alone. DARPA, the research arm of the Defense Department is studying the mechanism which allows the White crowned sparrow to stay awake for two weeks during its migration. They think it might be useful to help keep fighter pilots awake during their bombing missions.

I wish they’d leave the sparrow alone.

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  8 Responses to “Memorial Day”

  1. Thanks for this one, Randy. And may I recommend the book “What it’s really like to go to war” by Marlantes? He’s a Vietnam vet who has wrestled ever since with the whole of that experience, as an individual, a family man and a professional. The book is an honest recollection and also a very thoughtful look at the need to better prepare our young warriors (he doesn’t use the term troops) spiritually for the realities of combat (and political craziness) and the aftermath, including going ‘home’ to a culture, families and friends who can never really understand, even when they want to.

    We owe our (often very young) warriors compassion and appreciation. Booth Buckley (a West Point grad and member of a family — including the youngest generation — who have served in the US military for 150 years) said in his brief but very moving speech at today’s Lummi Island Vet Memorial service, we American citizens need to make sure that we — via the politicians we elect — honor our warriors by *only* sending them to serve and possibly lose their lives in conflicts that *genuinely* help defend our Constitution and principles it endorses. All other reasons — unreasoned fears, trumped-up enemies, it’s ‘good for business’, oil, false nationalist, religious etc pride — can never justify sending men and women into harm’s way.

    I personally think we should honor and memorialize all those in America who have served and sacrificed/dedicated their lives (sometimes unto death) by defending principles of liberty and justice through peaceful means, whether nonviolent resistance, protesting unjust wars and social conditions, farming, compassionate living, health care, serving in the PeaceCorp or AmeriCorp, teaching and the like.

    I believe we’ll be a stronger country (and Lummi Island a stronger community) when we finally choose to publicly honor *both* our warriors and peacemakers with equal fervor, compassion and appreciation. Not just one or the other. Both.

  2. I used to be a ship broker and sold commercial fishing boats and processing ships. There was one refrigerated vessel which had originally been built for the sole purpose of bringing bodies home from Viet Nam. All of the hatches into the refrigerated areas were the size of a body bag or coffin. It was a 236 ft. vessel, apparently one of many built for that purpose. It was a horror.

    I wish they’d leave the sparrow alone, too. Or study how she manages to be happy despite insecurity without killing anything and everything around her in increasingly unthinkable ways.

    Thanks for the article, Randy.

  3. Loved your article. Agree with all of it. Wish they would leave a lot of things (not just the sparrow) alone.

  4. Thank you Randy. At the LICA meeting about the proposed Veterans Memorial at the Ferry Dock park, John and I were among the few who spoke about not wanting the memorial there and suggested if there was, could we also have a memorial for peacemakers. Those who were for the memorial seemed unable to understand that we honored veterans and peacemakers while not wanting the memorial at that location. I was married to 2 Viet Nam veterans and I lived first hand the sacrifices that they made and the PTSD that they and anyone close to them experienced. I totally agree with Booth. Thanks for posting this thoughtful and heartful article.

  5. Thank you Randy. At the LICA meeting about the proposed Veterans Memorial at the Ferry Dock park, John and I were among the few who spoke about not wanting the memorial there and suggested if there was, could we also have a memorial for peacemakers. Those who were for the veterans memorial seemed unable to understand that we honor both veterans and peacemakers while not wanting the memorial at that location. I was married to 2 Viet Nam veterans and I lived first hand the sacrifices that they made and the PTSD that they and anyone close to them experienced. I totally agree with Booth. Thanks for posting this thoughtful and heartful article.

  6. Nina L posted a video of Booth Buckley’s amazing Memorial Day speech (6 min) on Facebook. Hope people will watch. Right now, I think it can only be viewed by Facebook members who are logged on, but I’ve asked Nina about maybe posting it on youtube as well.

    When I send out the link to Booth’s speech, I’m also sending the link to this great piece that Randy wrote.

  7. Please — CAUTION re: my last comment. I’ve learned from Nina that Booth, a very private person, was reluctant even about to the protected friends-family-only posting on facebook. So the chances of youtube posting are slim. We of course need to honor and respect Booth’s privacy and wishes, just as he so compassionately and bravely honored those who serve in our military in his Memorial Day speech.

    One positive outcome of The Great Flagpole brou-haha for me was my attending the LI memorial day service this year. Had that controversy not happened, I’d probably have been gardening instead.

  8. All I can say is, what a wonderful post.

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