Friday, April 9, 2010

It's __________ History Month!

I'm glad for some relatives who have gone to the effort to construct family history and genealogies. Thanks to them, I have learned that on my father's side of the family, the Wittman branch arrived in the U.S. and settled in northern Kentucky. Eight years later, they lost a son in the War Between the States, as my late friend Jack insisted that we call it.

I've always wondered how those recent immigrants felt about their loss and their recently adopted new homeland.

The same branch of the family went on to produce my great uncle Narvin O. Wittman, a Naval Aviator in World War II who made a craeer of the Navy and worked in aircraft engineering. He went on to take command of the engineering and maintenance of all U.S. Navy aircraft in the Pacific Fleet for a portion of the Vietnam War--which would have included the aircraft in which a young renegade pilot named John McCain was shot down over N. Vietnam. About this time, that same great uncle experienced the loss of his firstborn son, Narvin, Jr., a Lance Corporal in the USMC in S. Vietnam in August 1967.

Narvin, Sr. went on to attain the rank of Rear Admiral before retiring but as a changed man and a father with a grievous loss.

The Governor of Virginia wants to inaugurate Confederate History Month in his state. I say, "OK, go ahead." But at the end of the line will we actually be more informed and thoughtful about the fissures in our land, past and present?

We've had Black History Month for some years now. But do we really understand our history of slavery and the utterly disgraceful fact that a Civil Rights Movement was required in this country at at time when we were already flying around in jet aircraft and launching people into space?

Do we know much more than some vague connection between a guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fuzzy words "I have a dream"? Do we have a clue what else he saw or said about our country, peace, war, faith in Jesus Christ and the call of discipleship?

I'm still wondering when we'll ever get around to Vietnam War History Month. That line I wrote a dozen years ago in the script of the play I dedicated to my cousin Narvin, Jr. and my friends Jack and Wes still haunts me:

World War II we won and Korea we forgot, but Vietnam we just never wanted to know.

The other day I saw a jacked up 4WD pickup in full camo colors and with big off-road tires. It sported full-size Stars 'n Stripes and Stars 'n Bars flying from staffs mounted in the bed. I wondered what message the owner was sending, what I should take from that. Could have been a good conversation starter or a door-slammer, depending on what we thought at the outset.

But would we learn anything if we had the conversation?

One day, we may get around to asking, "What were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all about, and is our country better for them?" Since only 1-2% of our population now serves in the military, will we even care except to say, "Yeah, that was the time when our country went bankrupt."

Why are suicides of members of our armed forces at an all-time high?

If we can't do Vietnam with over 58,000 dead and 3.5 million veterans, whatcha suppose we'll do with reflecting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Have we ever really wanted to know?

I'd recommend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 book Chaos or Community: Where Do We Go From Here? as a good place to start.

He wrote these words in the United States of America. He should never have had to because there should never have been a need to. What could we learn from that?

Pray for what we do not know,


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