old soldier

flOne of my first posts on this blog, begun several years ago…….

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years in World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high school, senior year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He too had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

flThe news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

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8 responses to “old soldier

  1. Dear One . . . my Uncle Paul was killed in the first naval battle of Guadalcanal . . . my son (Paul’s great nephew) has all his memorabilia out on the wall for all to see and “remember”, tho my son never knew him . . . war is so cruel . . . I was thinking of him this morning and mourning all that were lost . . . my God, life can be so devastating !!!!! if it weren’t for our belief in an ‘after life”, we would go insane . . . but I am calmly confident of our ‘Godhead” and all it entails . . . thank you for your post on this special weekend !! everyone of us born here, have lessons to teach . . . may we always remember and learn from them . . . God bless “Troupe” and that you call him to remembrance, therefore, God bless you and all of us that are “sensitive”, it is a heavy cross we bear . . . Gladly !!!

  2. am sorry, his name is ‘Elgin’, sorry I got it wrong in my post . . . forgive . . . just was so anxious about it . . .

  3. Thank you for sharing this – a beautiful piece in honor of this Memorial Day – all who have served, and those who still live on (and survive in their own way) with their loving memories…

  4. Powerful

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Are we right to honor war veterans? I’ve pondered this many times. I’ve seen WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and a spate of shorter battles in places like Panama and Grenada; Bosnia and now Iraq and our longest ongoing war in Afghanistan.

    Am I the only one who cringes when I see people proudly saluting tanks and marching troops? It seems we continually justify going to war. People go to battle and we praise them for their sacrifice. We’re proud of them and we say so. I’m not saying they did not perform admirably.

    Most are heroes but that repeated praise does nothing to stop the next war. In fact, it drives home the message that war is part of life. That there will be no way out for our young people but to go to some war somewhere.

    Our recent invasions are not considered justifiable by many in the rest of the world. The unbridled aggression of the world’s largest and best-equipped military force might be understandable if we could see our enemy clearly.

    I didn’t and still don’t see the connection between Iraq and the handful of 9-11 religious zealots from Arab countries who are supposed to be our allies. Bin Laden is a more obvious enemy. But now he’s dead, why are we still in Afghanistan, fighting and dying in a country that clearly has no interest in taming its lunatic fringe?

    Already the sabers are rattling towards Yemen. Why will this cycle of war never stop? Can we stop it by ceasing to glorify war?

  6. Dear One . . . we honor our men who gave their lives for us in WWI and WWII, they volunteered to keep our country safe . . . as far as other wars, our men (and boys) went because our government ordered them to . . . we do not glorify war . . . change our politicians / politics, and we will see a great difference . . . but again, We Do Not Glorify War !!

  7. When I was a child, my father used to brag to us about his war experiences in WWII. ALOT of bragging. It wasn’t until my father had passed that my mom told us that his great war experiences consisted of steering ships around the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Go figure….

  8. AND, what I should have started out with….Beautiful post, as usual, Karleen.

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