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…
No purgatory for War Criminals….
Powerful eight minutes of Ukraine Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya speaking about the current war silently enveloping the world
Mr. Cronin, I have said it before and I say it again here, you are a community treasure and I thank you for your presence in our community. Your elegance of spirit, wit and generosity is a breathtaking gift to us all.
My father served in WWll, but didn’t die there.
He was a radio operator and big into ham radio for as long as I can remember.
He died in 2000 and I will (and do) remember him for being my father, and because I love/d him.
Utterly beautiful column: I loved it!
Last public phone booth in Times Square – wow!
I always enjoy the stories you share on this site and appreciate the thoughtfulness, perspective and maturity you bring to these electronic pages. You are often a balm in the midst of much turmoil. Thank you for this remembrance and thank you for your service.
There was supposed to be a statue in that fountain of a vet but the city was too cheap and bailed on the idea 🙁
I don’t know if it was cheap or not, but it certainly better without a statue there you don’t need a statue of a soldier. The reason is a veterans Memorial at all was to assuage Sal G. I think it also had something to do with balancing the Russian war memorial in Plummer Park. Athena annoys me most about this. Fountain is the misspelling of Veterans. There should not be an apostrophe. It is plural not possessive.
I remembered my father, a World War 2 veteran,would every Memorial Day promote and wear a red poppy.I didn’t learn about the meaning of the red poppy until I read about the history of combat in France where the poppies would bloom in the fields while fighting was going on. He never talked about his war experiences with me,but he did share some war stories with my brother who was a Vietnam War vet.War brings us together in odd ways. My brother helped organize a Memorial Day event in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights called Cinco Puntos where all… Read more »
The real heroes never mentioned their military service. It always becomes too personal. For years had a ceremony at GHuriekko Square. Why not not now?
There was a brief ceremony and the memorial is decorated with flags and flowers. There are people stopping by to honor vets but I don’t know that it was very formal