Monday, March 29, 2010

Living History

It could all come to an end soon. The Living History Day at Milwaukie (OR) High School could be a thing of the past. This annual November celebration of veterans and their storytelling may soon become another casualty on the battlefield of the empty and bankrupt economy and national priorities of the United States of America.

I've gone to several. I've shared some reflections with students a couple of times. It's always been with very mixed emotions. First, I'm a Cold War veteran, not a combat veteran--unless you call the 2.5 years of changing work shifts every 96 hours and stumbling through constant fatigue due to interrupted sleep cycles "combat". It wasn't fun. It may have aged me by a few years.

I served in a time when service was mandatory (aka, "the draft") but accompanied by a lot of negative baggage due to America's deep divisions and indecision over the Vietnam War. We "solved" that problem by stringing it out four years longer than need be. That way, we could have "peace with honor". As a nation, we dodged the draft question with a lottery system and by eventually ending the draft. We left our armed forces to choose from among the few, the proud and the unemployed. And those who can't afford college any other way. I'm all for people who want to go to college to actually get an education and are willing to serve for it.

Living History Day has enabled many veterans to hear a hartfelt "thank you" too long denied them. But too often those few moments of thanks have been followed by a dismissal from our nation plague with a very short attention span and little desire to know what those who served actually did and what they carry with them.

"Now that we've thanked you, our duty is done," we seem to say. "We can now feel good about ourselves, so go away to wherever you were."
Or we put flags and anthems in the place of God and make it about worship rather than self-examination and reflection. Yes, we humans can even come to worship war. We certainly do like to collect war machinery like art treasures.
Unfortunately, the real stories about war that we need to hear have frequently been lost to us. Either the person who carried them did not survive, or they returned alive but did not "survive".
I just tried to call my friend Jack's wife Nila. Jack died a year ago today. One steamy night in Georgia some years back after I related what someone had done to a family member, Jack said to me, "I've got a lot of blood on my hands already. If someone had done that to my baby, I wouldn't have any problem taking him out."
He didn't mean "take him out to dinner". No other human being has ever said those words to me.
I miss Jack, and I regret not hearing more of the stories behind the few startling words I did hear. I regret every stitch of the living history that is lost to us each day.
Rest well, Jack.

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