Earlier this week, watching Morning Joe on MSNBC, I witnessed the removal from Times Square (New York) of the last known public telephone booth in the city.
That even one booth remained in a world of cell phones and other digital communication was something of a miracle. Moreover, the sight of such an icon reminded me of the time spent forty years ago drafting my contribution to the voluminous National Emergency Response Plan.
Incorporated somewhere within its folds was the edict to bring back on line all public telephones for free use by the public as all other methods would be commandeered by the government — cell phone use was just beginning to take hold.
I have not looked at the Plan in some years thus do not know how the public will communicate when there is a disaster which might make cell phones moot. I dwelt for a moment on disasters, then to the military, then to war. But, as one thought ran to another, and the vagaries of memories took me to some other distant events, I remembered that Memorial Day was soon to arrive.
I had often posted an item here on that day. This year, a little different.
Some lessons are hard-learned and impossible to avoid. In early 1951, to escape (I hoped!) the fate of my best friend who was killed in Korea on his second day in that far away land, I joined the Air Force. Young and gullible enough to believe the promises of the recruiting sergeant, I signed up for the obligatory eight-year term. Because I was a CAP cadet (Civil Air Patrol) with almost one hundred solo hours in my log,I was told of a training course for forward observer pilots flying light aircraft.
Two things happened a moth into my basic training: The promised program was abolished and, the attrition rate was about 90% — which means that if I had ended up flying in Korea, my chances of returning to the US were quite slim. The lesson: In the military, believe nothing until it happens. Eventually, I spent five years in Europe and three years in the ready reserve. There are many kinds of warfare.
Musing further about war in general, I re-found a website I had turned up years ago when researching for a book. Wars and Casualties of the 20th and 21st Centuries. During all my nearly ninety years on this planet, humans have made war the most common of all events — not a single one of my years has been free of war. If the tears of the grieving could have been channeled there would be another salty sea. We are far better at war than we are at peace – though we keep trying, our true social spirit is yet to be born.
Thus, we invent holidays such as Memorial Day to remember those who believed in some cause, good or bad and, perhaps, to remind us of the human costs of war. (I once wondered what would have happened if I had been called up from the reserves to report somewhere. I was mustered out at a small Air Force station south of the city, travelled to New York to meet a buddy and gave my entire military kit, a fat duffle bag full of all my uniforms, etc., to the first street person I encountered. Never heard from the USAF. )
Reams of poetry have attempted to relay the inevitable damage of wars. I think of poems like Babi Yar , some of Walt Whitman’s muted but striking poems of war and loss, of the ancient poets who wrote of war’s heroes as civilizations were being destroyed.
Poems everywhere – even I had sent in my Memorial Day 1953 for these pages.
But none capture for me the innate sadness of it all more than In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, which begins –
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our places; and in tye sky
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
scare heard among the guns below.
For your homework today, research and find the rest. Peace…