Herself and I spent the month of September 2001 on South Island, New Zealand. I'd begun to learn, by walkabout in Chch and stopping in a few places on our driving tour just how seriously the Kiwis felt about events involving the Great War. As we continued the tour, I confirmed that every community, Every Single One, maintained a monument to those who went to that war, because most of them did not come home again.
We woke up in Dunedin on the morning of 12 September to the news from New York, where the date continued to be 9/11. Some of the Kiwis own were there in New York that day, again never to come home.
There are memories engraved in my soul from the rest of that trip. One is, as I mentioned, finding those Monuments in each and every community, no matter how small. More than the Kiwi Hospitality (and believe me, folks, Kiwis take their hospitality quite to heart), there are memories of driving past farm houses well past the wopwops out further than the back of beyond, that now flew US flags from their porch flagstaffs draped in black crepe. Business' displaying multiple nations flags with the US flag at half-staff despite what Mr. Bush said to do back home.
So on 25 April, at the dawning of the day and the setting of the sun, for my own reasons, I Remember Them.
"That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines."
I don't, generally, get into any of the 'meme' postings here or on other sites where I conduct 'social networking' related to remembering military service personnel, or the dichotomy between the politicians that send them to battle and those they send. It's real, don't get me wrong on that count. Simply, it is too personal for me. Most of those memories involve people I knew and worked with. Some involve family. Others involve Aussies and Kiwis though not specifically any of their military service members.
So I don't indiscriminately pass around those commentaries to 'make' people pause and remember that Freedom Is Not Free. I choose my times, some of which are truly International, some specific to my country, some to other countries yet all are interwoven because we are all part of This World, to Remember.
Lest We Forget.
( If it seems odd that a Yank marks this day... read on )
Isn't the case, this time.
Couldn't even tell you what we were watching now; something to occupy some time, really, winding down after working on the Ranch most of the day. Getting a bit red on the arms and neck, catching up but never surpassing all the things which need doing when one owns their own home, their own ranch. Winding it down. Thinking about something in particular, not even related to all that work.
The commercial was for Outback Restaurants. And I just stopped my mental processing at that, thinking how very, very Yank a perception of Australia is that particular restaurant franchise. How... stereotypical.
You see... or maybe you don't. The Aussies & Kiwis who wander through here, y'all will see. Not so sure about the Yanks, though maybe. Probably the Canucks will. Beyond that... I'm not so sure.
( You see, yesterday was ANZAC Day. )
It isn't much. No music, no lone bugler playing 'Last Post'. Was just Houdini & I, starting our Saturday looking east over the pasture through morning mist. Because we Yanks are not the only people, we've never been the only people who've 'given that last full measure of devotion.'
Lest we forget.
It is also called Remembrance Day in many places. Poppies are used to mark the day, inspired by one of the greatest pieces of poetry written, a bit of healing art: In Flanders Fields by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army. He'd been treating soldiers wounded in the Second Battle of Ypres and learned of the death of his friend in that battle. He died in January of 1918, of pneumonia (many, many more military personnel die of disease than do of their wounds or injuries; think about that some time when you look at the statistics of 'Killed in Action'). I've quoted that poem here in years previous. A friend quotes it today over at her place.
On this day, I Remember.
Yesterday I heard several someones speak: someone who survived a war, someone who survived another war, someone who served but never in a war. One of them spoke about their service as providing a defining moment to their lives, focusing on service and putting the public good before self.
Yes, it did that for me too.
There are two specific defining moments for me during that service. The first came on the day I reported aboard Hospital Corps A School, Great Lakes, Illinois. On the Quarterdeck, across from the Officer of the Day's Office (ashore, the Quarterdeck is always the place one reports aboard or is detached from duty in the Navy), hung on the wall framed 8x10 photographs. Three files high and 17 ranks deep, you do the math, these are all Hospital Corpsman who received the Congressional Medal of Honour. The supreme award for valour in the U.S. Military (Civilians receive a different award). I read the captions while waiting for orders to be processed, and repeatedly saw: Posthumous. Posthumous. Posthumous.
I'd say my recollection is around 95% of those Medal recipients, actually went to their families.
Now this is a defining moment in my life but it's actually only half of that defining moment. Two years later, at my duty station Naval Regional Medical Center, Orlando, Florida, I served with a Hospitalman Chief. Chief was a pretty quiet guy, usually, despite defining himself as a redneck (he took a part-time job as a security guard at a self-storage warehouse so he could 'work off my redneck tendancies'). Chief also did three tours in Vietnam, the first two with the Marines, and the third as a SEAL. Chief's left breast on his uniform shirts and coats had seven rows three wide of ribbons, plus one. One, centered, top row. Pale blue ground, white stars.
Chief, like I said, usually kept quiet and went about business. Oh, he could be a lot of fun to be with around times like the Hospital Corps Birthday and other big events, he wasn't a stick in the mud. I just never heard him raise his voice, and only twice ever saw him get any kind of riled. Two of my favourite memories of Chief involved Morning Muster. One of them, after Roll Call, he looked us over.
'I've been finding empty beer cans in the trash when I come in mornings. Not a lot, but they're there. You all know the regulations, but I need to remind you. Written Regulation: There is no drinking on duty. Unwritten Regulation: So empty the trash before Chief gets here.'
The other Morning Muster memory is one of the two times I saw Chief riled. Right after Plan of the Day was announced, he turned to a Hospitalman (E-3 pay grade, so like only the third pay grade up from the bottom), brand new aboard and fresh out of A School at the Lakes and said, 'Make coffe.'
Chief turned back to this HM and looked at him, and the whole compartment got very quiet. 'What was that?' Chief asked.
'I gave you an order,' Chief said, still in that so quiet voice he always used.
'I don't drink coffee. I won't make coffee.' That proverbial pin-drop? They'd of heard it in the CO's office across the Hospital campus.
Chief turned to another fellow, told him to make coffee, then walked into the office. Now, this particular job Chief and I shared the office, so I followed him in and got to work. Chief sat down at his desk and dialed his phone; I recognised it as a WATTS number and even enough of it (dial phones those days, eh?) that he'd called someone in DC. The brief conversation that followed made it clear to me he spoke with a personal friend, and asked for a favour for someone who really, truly needed the experience.
And that very afternoon, right after Noon Chow, in fact, HM WontMakeCoffee got called to the Personnel office, where he received orders to Field Medical School, Camp Lejune, North Carolina.
The other time I ever saw Chief riled was around May but not Memorial Weekend. We'd just gone through a Change of Command ceremony, with all of us turning out in Full Dress Blues, so Chief didn't have that little ribbon on his chest but the somewhat bigger one around his neck, the one with the actual Medal on it. After the ceremony, back on SPO Quarters, somebody in the lounge asked, 'Hey, Chief, how'd you win the Medal?'
The whole room turned. Chief stood there, shaking his head. 'PO3, you stupid, brainless excuse for a warthog, nobody wins the Medal. You might, maybe, just possibly if you do everything right when it gets so unfriendly ugly that even your great granddaddy warthog would hide, through an outside chance be awarded the Medal. Odds are you won't be there to see your mother be handed the box, though.'
And he went to his quarters.
Come to think of it, I don't recall Chief ever using an obscenity, either.
Chief would tell you, if you waited for him to talk about it, that he wasn't a hero. He didn't feel he deserved that Medal, he didn't feel it belonged to him. He wore it for every other man who was with him that time that didn't come home, the real heroes according to Chief. I know this, because he did.
Today, at the Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh Day in the Eleventh Month, I Remember. I Remember Chief's shipmates, and my own, and my brothers and uncles, who didn't come home.
( cut for bandwidth, Peeecture, Vietnam Womens Veterans Memorial )
For my US readers/friends, ANZAC Day is much like our Memorial Day, or perhaps like Rememberance Day/Veteran's Day (though that date is also commemorated there).
The specific date is the day when the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps (hence, ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in 1915. During the Great War, Winston Churchill proposed a plan to open the Black Sea to the British Navy, involving a quick landing and overland march to capture Istanbul and take Turkey out of the war as an ally of Germany. Things did not progress quite according to plan. By the time the Army Corps withdrew from the peninsula, over 8000 Australian, 2700 New Zealander, and 65000 Turkish soldiers died. As is often the case in protracted battles, soldiers of both sides grew to respect and appreciate the bravery of their opponents, which (perhaps ironically) leads to better relationships between their countries after the hostilities.
They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We will remember them. Lest we Forget
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
'I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918