Tag Archives: World War II

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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for my son, whose middle name is Edward……

I wrote this in 2008, and I think it wears well. One more time……

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 during 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 unmarked 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 eighteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troup. 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.

for my son, whose middle name is edward*

*(This was among the first posts I wrote in this blog. I wrote it in 2008, and I think it bears repeating. Hope you agree……) 

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 unmarked 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.

The 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………

My note this 5/29/11. Elgin, at 90, soldiers on. He lives by himself, drives himself around the little town in east Texas near which he lives, and tends his garden. He still won’t talk about the war. War scars and maims. Men who live on the brink of death bond in a way that is immediate and soul wrenching. Is there a war story in your family? How have the men in your family been impacted? How has that impact reverberated down? And what about the women?

test

This week:

Sat outside in late dusk….the tenderness of the evening, air so soft, color so lovely that green of trees had soft sulphur poured into the palette, wind so chimes were playing….an outdoor cathedral with my old and huge camphor tree as ceiling through which shadowing sky showed.

Seized by orchid fever starting by going to Orchid Express to have orchid replanted. They did it for free, and I walked among the ones blooming. Then Kroger’s and Whole Foods both had orchids for $9. So now I have three in all, two blooming creamy hopeful faces, one, repotted, hopefully to bloom in the fall.

Read Jessica Mitford‘s memoir, Hons and Rebels, in a day, the Hons being short for Honorable, which is the title given the daughters of lords. She was part of the extraordinary Mitford sisters, some six young women who took the 1930s world by storm. She ran off with a young rebel and anti-fascist, Esmond Romilly, at 19, and her memoir ends with his early death (the war, the second world war). She felt entombed by her English life and family and broke free like an eagle suddenly untethered. I think about my  life, no war, no earthquake, no tsunami, no radiation, no political unrest that involves guns– in a sense, no way to be extraordinary or not by a huge test of character, so my test must be making the best of it and looking at what is set in front of me and finding its story and practicing gratitude, hard for a restless spirit like mine, a spirit I soothe by reading the tales of others who flew the coop….

Wallis

King's lover Wallis Simpson was 'miserable, second-rate American woman'

Been obsessed all week rereading the story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward, the king who abdicated his throne for “the woman I love.” It would have been the biggest story of the 1930s except for something called the Great Depression and that other event called the beginning of World War II. The King’s Speech got me started, watching Bertie step into a role he didn’t wish for because of his brother’s abdication. And then I found an old volume of letters between Wallis and Edward and a biography. Their affair became a grand romance, but even with all the money, it couldn’t sustain itself, though his devotion to her never wavered. I was reminded again of how cunning one must be to survive in high circles of power, of how when the establishment spurns, it’s a tsunami, crushing everything in its path. I’m reminded of the narrowness of what is called morality, how culture shapes it. She was a divorced woman, a label which offended many. She was cunning, but not cunning enough to do the homework she needed to have done to have helped salvage him. I’m reminded of Marie Antoinette, only grasping her power when it was too late, because she was too busy playing. Play isn’t a luxury those in circles of power can indulge for too long. And love. What is that creature exactly? It can’t be simply lust to endure.  Truth, duty, honor, gratitude, a certain purity of heart must underpin its fragile tendrils, as well as a sense of community and purpose. At least that’s what I theorize as I wind my way into my crone years and attempt to understand as fully as I can the unicorn we call love.

What do you know that I don’t about love? Tell me.