Friday, November 11, 2011

Speak, Memory

My friend Richard sent me a message on Facebook-of course-after he read my Father's Day post.  He wanted to share his recollection of something my Father once said either to him or to one of the classes he taught at Mabelvale United Methodist Church.  For the uninitiated, this means he was relating something that took place no later than the early seventies. 

Now, as anybody who has ever done a deposition can tell you, memory can be a tricky thing.  I wish I had a nickle for everytime I have seen somebody testify under oath about what they remember with crystalline clarity to be true only to have a document shoved under their noses prove the opposite.  It's not that these people are all liars. Memory is selective.  People tend to remember what they want to remember.  People confuse emotions with facts.  It's just human nature. 

But I have known Richard about as long as I have known anybody.  And so I know that there is not an ounce of confabulist in him.  So I will just relay the message.

Richard said that the discussion that day during United Methodist Youth or whatever group my father was leading concerned the proposed Vietnam Memorial.  He says that my father didn't think much of the notion.

He said that Buck talked about being at Guadalcanal and how you could smell fear in the air.

"Your Dad said he got so sick of that smell and being so sick of being afraid himself that one day he set up on a trench and smoked a cigarette," Richard wrote."

" You want a monument to war?," he remembers Buck saying. "Go down to the State Capitol grounds and dig a slit trench.  Fill it with all the trash and rubbish you can find.  Urinate in it.  Defecate in it.  Now let it fester a couple of weeks in the sun.  That's your monument to war."

There are a couple of problems with this recollection.  My father didn't serve at Guadalcanal.  However, although he was in the Navy, as a Seebee he served on many islands that the Marines had taken over and so he would have been familiar with the contents of a slit trench.  Further, my father was a painfully shy man, especially around women and girls.  Accordingly, while I can't imagine Buck ever using elevated bathroom language in front of high school kids, the slit trench as a metaphor for the ennui and degradation of war would have come easily to him.  So it might have been Buck. 

Most likely the speaker was Mr. Dalton Miller, who did indeed serve in the Marine Corps in the Pacific Theatre.  I have no recollection as to where he fought but that much I am sure of. 

But it doesn't matter.  As we lawyers say, the story has the "ring of truth."  Richard most assuredly heard the story from a veteran whose actual wartime experiences made his view of war cynical and unromantic.  That's all that matters.  And it stuck with him to this day.

And whoever the speaker was, we owe him a debt of gratitude along with all the other men and women who have worn, and will wear, the uniforms of the Armed Services of the United States of America.  To me, the slit trench is only a metaphor.  To either my Dad or Mr. Miller, the slit trench served both as metaphor and a disgusting reality of daily life at one time in their youth back during the Big One. 

Thanks to them and all the other veterans, I vote as I please, pretty much say what I please and go to church wherever I want.  Or I don't go if I don't want to.  Thanks to them, I was able to spend my youth and young adulthood acquiring an education and a profession.  Thanks to them, I enjoyed a good career from which I was fortunate to retire early.  Thanks to them, you and I enjoy a measure of personal autonomy that is the envy of much of the world.

And thanks to them, never had to sit atop a slit trench in order to cover up the smell of fear all around me. 

For all of these things, I give thanks to our vets.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

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