Monday, November 29, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Iris After Veterans Day
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Kids would be willing to hazard a guess. Probably won't get a peep out of adults. Too afraid of being "wrong".
Monday, November 15, 2010
I don't contend a single qualification of the Americans who lived and served and experienced the sacrifices and the decisions of World War II.
They deserve all the thanks and honor we can give them.
But as my fellow Nebraskan, Dr. Mary Pipher observed in her book The Shelter of Each Other--Rebuilding Our Families, when the wolf is at the door and the enemy is external, coming together is so much easier to do.
When the wolf is inside, it's a totally different deal.
I fought the Cold War in the Vietnam era. I've actually heard WWII veterans say in front of Vietnam veterans, "I fought the GOOD war." I found it gracious of the Vietnam vets that they kept their silence and didn't shout, "Excuse me, but we didn't get any more of a choice than you did."
I've had it stuck in my face for much of my life that I'm a "baby boomer". As if I had a choice. I'm supposed to be one of America's first worthless generation, a generation that lost America's first war, the generation of free love and no morals. The generation of Americans that expected the government to do everything for them. Totally spoiled. Well...
I've got a beef with a few things. The Greatest Generation did great things in WWII. But it was also that generation that got us into Vietnam and then could not figure out what the hell to do with it or how to be honest about it. A guerilla war for national unification was constantly fought with the mentality (on America's part) of a traditional European land war with fronts and opposing powers wanting to annex adjacent territory. It was none of those. Greatest Generation was not great enough to see that or to make an appropriate course correction if they did. Political calculations colored everything but were colorblind to the color of blood--my generation's blood.
Even greatness has limitations.
Our country, our culture, our families, our political system and our economy and our churches and our entire way of life are threatened today by insidious enemies from within even as our way of life threatens the entire planet without. So far, we are not responding well at all. We are mostly like the grumbling Israelites longing for "the flesh pots of Egypt." We're looking back. We still like Ike and wanna go back there.
We haven't found our Moses to show the only way: forward.
I don't know who the parent was who left their child's note at the Oregon Vietnam Memorial in May. I wonder if the adult(s) involved had any more of an idea how to spell, construct a simple declarative sentence or to reason than the child who made these letters in crayon. At least the kid had the wisdom and the courage to say something, whatever it means.
So here's my response to the accusations that my boomer roots and birth date have made me a substandard American:
1. We've never bounced a check.
2. We've never been in jail.
3. We've never been in credit card trouble.
4. We've been married to only each other for nearly 40 years.
5. We've raised a daughter who has been employed and self-sufficient since she graduated from college over 8 years ago.
6. Our house is old and paid for.
7. Our cars are old and paid for.
8. We pay our taxes.
9. We inform ourselves and vote.
10. We have never collected a dime of unemployment compensation.
11. We have household income at the poverty level.
12. We go to church and actually provide church and meals for people who are homeless and mentally ill.
13. We've never sued anyone, but I have helped to defend others wrongly accused and sued in court.
14. We've both interrupted education tracks and careers to serve our country and live overseas at well below poverty level.
15. We've never expected the government to provide for us.
16. We've let our elected representatives know repeatedly what we think is right and necessary.
None of this deserves an award or a certificate of achievement. It's simply the minimum standard we should expect of everyone who lives here.
We've got serious problems here in the USA, and they are bringing the nation to its knees. We have actually glorified war over responsibility.
These problems will not be solved by entertainment and thinking no deeper than 140-character tweets. They will not be solved by spending even more money on election campaigns.
"Getting the message out" is not the impediment to moving forward. Being clueless or careless is.
Crushing burdens have been handed to Americans under the age of 35, burdens which Jean and I have decried in every way we could because we foresaw them. We are not ready to quit, but we are discouraged. VERY discouraged.
And here's my take on things. If Americans under the age of 35 can figure out how to salvage the mess that's been left to them, they will far, far exceed the Greatest Generation in imagination, courage and sacrifice. They will indeed have earned the title "Far Greater Generation".
By comparison to what today's younger Americans face, the challenges of WWII were flat out idiot-simple.
Younger Americans, we're here to help. Let's talk.
Time we got going. Waiting makes none of the tasks ahead easier or simpler.
Prayers accepted and appreciated. Thanks!
Thursday, November 11, 2010
And on this day I can't help thinking about Wes. And what he told Ron just before he shipped out for Vietnam in '67. Wes didn't expect to return. And he didn't. Almost did, but he didn't. You can only wish all soldiers would return alive. Most did return alive, of course.
Monday, November 8, 2010
I traveled to my hometown of Arlington, Nebraska last month to visit my Mom. She's lived her whole life in this county until the past two months in neighboring Dodge County, the county where I was born.
Arlington has a little VFW Hall, now headquarters also for the American Foreign Legion, or what's left of it. They have burger barbeques regularly and post honor guards at funerals of veterans, plant flags on veterans' graves on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.
Outside the VFW Hall is, of course, a flagpole. But there's also the mandatory piece of non-functional armament. In this case, it's a 155mm model M1A2 Howitzer.
It's been brush painted with several coats of olive drab paint that are now badly oxidized again. The military tires have actually been replaced since a previous visit, but they are not faring and aging well in the heat and sun of Nebraska summers and the cold of Nebraska winters.
In the few minutes I spent around the artillery piece last month, I probably looked more closely at some details than almost anyone in town. It's kinda like that with things we see every day and take for granted. Kinda like veterans whom we see every day assuming that we know what's there.
Within the length of two football fields from this big gun, one can be standing in my cousin Verdel's soybean or corn field, depending on what he's planted that year. Farming is now an industrial process limited exclusively to two heavily genetically modified crops: corn and 'beans. It wasn't always so, but things are always changing in this technologically driven world of ours.
Illinois blacksmith John Deere gave the world the steel plow. It worked so much better than its cast iron predecessor because the steel would polish up nice and smooth and scour much better as it turned the soil. It tilled better. The horse could pull it more easily. John Deere's peer named Oliver accomplished the same thing using chilled iron.
And with the growth of the iron and steel industry, American manufacturers were able to bolt and rivet together huge 10-bottom plows to break up the prairie sod when pulled by monstrous steam tractors burning coal and wood. Hello, Dust Bowl, a few decades later!
As with all things that rise rapidly, an apex is reached, then a fall. At the height of intensive tillage, turbocharged diesel farm tractors pulled 6-bottom plows, mostly 16-inch bottoms unlike the smaller 12- or 14-inch bottoms pulled by the steamers. Some of the better ones were made by the Oliver Corporation of Chicago, Illinois. Zip code 60606.
Chi Town. Also home of International Harvester, successor to the McCormick-Deering Company that grew out of the reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick. Among Chicago, Moline, Waterloo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Coldwater (Ohio), you had over 90% of the farm equipment manufactured in the United States.
The Oliver Corporation went belly up long ago. IH had to merge with Case to stay afloat. There is no Minneapolis-Moline. No Massey-Harris, no Cockshutt (Canada), no Ferguson, No Allis-Chalmers, no Avery. Thankfully, farmers no longer use plows. No-till farming has begun to save a lot of fuel and topsoil, and none to soon. But we've replaced plowing to some extent with genetic tinkering and massive amounts of chemicals. How long before we figure out that doesn't work in the long haul either?
I wonder how many of the farmers or farm rooted people in Arlington know that the gun carriage for the big Howitzer was made by The Oliver Corporation? 1955. Says so right on the barely legible data plate. It's a composite piece, this big gun. Barrel came from the Watervliet Arsenal, 1984. Breech has been welded shut. So has the muzzle.
Sometimes these big guns took lives. Sometimes they saved them. Sometimes they took friendly lives on our side when we put expired Korea era shells into them: short rounds that exploded near the gun, not the target.
A friend's father, David Paul Spears, was killed that way in July 1966. He left behind a young widow, Shelby, and three little kids. Years later, David Spears would also have a granddaughter named Shelby. And since we're talking about iron and steel, how about this irony: The Oliver Corporation manufactured carriages for the 155mm Howitzer at its Shelbyville, Ohio factory.
And sometimes the big guns took lives even when they weren't present. Because they existed and we sold them to others, munitions were made and stockpiled. Sometimes, as the Saturday Night Live Coneheads used to say, "in mass quantities."
Decades later a whole new technology of asymmetric warfare would emerge. The shells would be pilfered "in mass quantities" after the fall of Saddam because we went in with too few troops to actually occupy Iraq and then naively dismissed the entire armed forces of Iraq.
Can you say "Improvised explosive device?"
Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war, stir up the warriors. Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, "I am a warrior." Joel 3:9-10.
Seems so many things are becoming obsolete all around us. The military draft has become obsolete. But war hasn't yet. I wonder when we'll figure out that we can't afford war. Philosophically or financially...
Funny how much the M1A2 on the Howitzer's data plate looks like MIA2. I wish war would go MIA, too. I wonder if we could grow to embrace that thought?
P.S. In case it looks insignificant, the inside diameter of the welded shut Howitzer muzzle below measures 6.1 inches.