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June 01, 2004

Libations for the Dead

Not much of a Memorial Day for me this time around. The spousal unit and I got into a very long and deep discussion about which of our families is more dysfunctional. At the end we determined to hold our heads high for the nuke, but I suspect this issue isn't dead and buried.

The dead and buried also didn't have much of our attention this breezy Monday, but we did at least bow our heads and pour some of our drinks on the ground. In mind was Uncle Fat Phil who died last year from complications of colon cancer.

Uncle Fat Phil served in Korea. He was one of the crew that my father grew up with, a jolly and crusty ne'er do well with an appetite for salty jokes and a fondness for skinny women. The only job I can ever remember him having was working at an old jeans outlet called Beno's. Other than that, he would show up at Thanksgiving and at family picnics and with his recipie for beer boiled hotlinks. Uncle Fat Phil was transformed by the sweetness of kids. Around us he was always a barrell of laughs, but I could always tell that my father shushed him when we showed up unexpectedly. He never talked about Korea. Nobody ever talked about Korea.

Phil, in his later years lost both of his legs and lived in a fleabag hotel in Downtown LA. He existed on VA money, period. I would talk to him on the phone occasionally, and I could hear him croaking out a smile in his raspy voice. He made us kids think, even when we were no longer kids, that we were just about the only happy part of his life.

When you kill someone in war, or even if you merely ran for your life and froze your balls off somewhere south of the Yalu river, the comfort of home and children is never far from your mind. We may delude ourselves into believing that our work is stressful and that after a hard day's work a cold beer and a foot massage makes everything OK. But a stint in a war that you lose and people would prefer to forget requires a great deal more comfort.

As I hear over and over how great the 'Greatest Generation' was and how WW2 really had defined us as a nation it becomes almost numbing. I watched portions of the dedication ceremony for the new memorial in our nation's capital noting how different people appear when they are working so hard to be dignified and serious. It marks us that we aren't more often, and it shows. Still, such things must be said, such ceremonies must be held. But nothing can substitute for the comfort of friends and families with barbecues and boomboxes out on a sunny day generating good times and pleasant memories. The veterans will have their salty talk, but they will gladly put it away when children come to play. The pundits will have their serious intonations, the geopolitical analysts will have their policy points. But somewhere along the line, the soldiers must have their apple pie and homecomings.

Yes we poured out our drinks on the grass yesterday, but I wish they could have been poured into the cup of a veteran friend of the family. Saluting gravestones is too little too late.

Posted by mbowen at June 1, 2004 10:37 AM

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