Showing posts with label Patriotism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Patriotism. Show all posts

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” -- John Adams

That is how I concluded an entry I wrote three years ago on Memorial Day.

I still think about the profound significance of the day and of my Dad who served in WW II as a Signal Corps photographer. He was not the type of man who talked about his experiences in the war much, particularly the day he was one of the first army photographers who entered the Buchenwald concentration camp. He had horrific photos in his private collection which I discovered as a kid. Also I remember today was known as Decoration Day, but the intended meaning of honoring our veterans has not changed. Thanks to them all we live in a country which in spite of its problems is always striving to "form a more perfect union."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day Thoughts

On this Veterans Day I take a moment to remember my father who fought in WW II. He was a Signal Corps photographer, and although that doesn't sound very dangerous, he had his share of close calls, fears, and uncertainties. He did things he never imagined he'd be asked to do or see, such as having to film a German concentration camp as soon as it was liberated witnessing first-hand those demonic atrocities. Or having to go up in gliders to silently land near enemy lines, and, generally, having to be away from his wife (Penny) and young son (me). He rarely talked about those war years, preferring to just put that part of his life into a compartment, locking it and throwing away the key.

My father had some notoriety, appearing on the pages of Stars and Stripes, the venerable newspaper of the armed forces that has been published since the Civil War. My father was filming at enemy lines overlooking the Rhine River, under a German sign reading "Photography Forbidden."

Now that he is long gone I regret not trying to talk to him more about the experience. I have some of his letters that he wrote to my mother and my Uncle and below I quote one of my favorite passages as it is so revealing. Towards the end of the War he wanted to get home so badly. Who could blame him? I'm sure all Veterans, current and past share those feelings.

Here are my father’s hopes and thoughts on Aug. 12, 1945, in a letter to his brother, Phil, from Wiesbaden, Germany:

“As you no doubt already know, I informed my sweetheart [Penny] some very discouraging news – that is being stuck here as [part of the] occupational [force]. On the heels of that letter came the wonderful news that Japan is asking for surrender. As this wasn’t definite as yet, I can’t say that finally war is ended, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of a day or two.

The Atomic bombings, and Russia’s entry into the conflict just overwhelmed the Japanese, especially the Atom smasher, a deadly and destructive thing, which has great future development for the betterment of mankind, but what I fear is some nation to use it for a complete destruction of civilization. I hope that this fear never will materialize.

What I began to say concerning the news [staying here as part of the occupational force], which I hated to tell Penny, is this – the sudden ending of all hostilities can possibly bring me and hundreds of other guys back to homes sooner than is predicted. I’m sure that those who are the law makers at home aren’t going to leave us in these foreign lands against our will – especially as there are millions of other Joes who have never left the good old USA and faced a future of sudden death.

I fought for freedom, freedom for all peoples. Now that we have won victory over the oppressors, haven’t I the right to enjoy that freedom? The Army is composed of civilians. Is it not the democratic way that we all share the fruits of victory, especially those who fought for it and were fortunate enough to be sparred a hideous death?"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Early in the Morning

It is early in the morning on the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration – in fact very early, another restless night. When it is so early and still outside, sound travels and I can hear the CSX freight train in the distance, its deep-throated rumbling and horn warning the few cars out on the road at the numerous crossings nearby.

Perhaps subconsciously my sleeplessness on this, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, relates to the incongruous dreamlike images of the bookends of my political consciousness, from the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957, the freedom marches that culminated with the march on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech, to the inauguration tomorrow of our first Afro-American President. All this breathtaking demonstration of profound social change in just my lifetime.

Much has now been said comparing Obama to Lincoln. In my “open letter” to Obama that I published here last May I said “Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy. Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage. Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own ‘team of rivals’ as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.”

The Lincoln comparison is now omnipresent in the press, not to mention his cabinet selections indeed being a team of rivals. But I am restless because of what faces this, the very administration I had hoped for: a crisis of values as much as it is an economic one. The two are inextricably intertwined.

I am reading an unusual novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike, Terrorist. One of the main characters, Jack Levy laments: “My grandfather thought capitalism was doomed, destined to get more and more oppressive until the proletariat stormed the barricades and set up the worker’ paradise. But that didn’t happen; the capitalists were too clever or the proletariat too dumb. To be on the safe side, they changed the label ‘capitalism’ to read ‘free enterprise,’ but it was still too much dog-eat-dog. Too many losers, and the winners winning too big. But if you don’t let the dogs fight it out, they’ll sleep all day in the kennel. The basic problem the way I see it is, society tries to be decent, and decency cuts no ice in the state of nature. No ice whatsoever. We should all go back to being hunter-gathers, with a hundred-percent employment rate, and a healthy amount of starvation.”

The winners in this economy were not only the capitalists, the real creators of jobs due to hard work and innovation, but the even bigger winners: the financial masters of the universe who learned to leverage financial instruments with the blessings of a government that nurtured the thievery of the public good through deregulation, ineptitude, and political amorality. This gave rise to a whole generation of pseudo capitalists, people who “cashed in” on the system, bankers and brokers and “financial engineers” who dreamt up lethal structures based on leverage and then selling those instruments to an unsuspecting public, a public that entrusted the government to be vigilant so the likes of a Bernie Madoff could not prosper for untold years. Until we revere the real innovators of capitalism, the entrepreneurs who actually create things, ideas, jobs, our financial system will continue to seize up. That is the challenge for the Obama administration – a new economic morality.

Walt Whitman penned these words on the eve of another civil war in 1860:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs

It is still early in the morning as I finish this but the sun is rising and I’m going out for my morning walk. Another freight train is rumbling in the distance. I hear America singing.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coming to America

It took a local concert to briefly snap me out of my funk.

We live near a local theatre, the Eissey Campus Theatre, of the Palm Beach Community College. Over the years we’ve seen some wonderful performers and concerts there, subscribing to series featuring The Florida Sunshine Pops, a 65 piece orchestra under the direction of the venerable Richard Hayman who at the age of 18 started as a harmonica virtuoso in the Harmonica Rascals and became a leading arranger and conductor. And he is still conducting an orchestra at the age of 88!

The series always includes some of the finest singers – light opera and Broadway voices – and the genre is generally the Great American Songbook, my favorite.

The first concert of the season, last night, was Coming to America -- Celebrating The American People, Armed Forces and the individuals who chose America. It was a night filled with memorable patriotic songs and marches. One of the very talented singers was Teri Hansen, a soprano, who has that something extra for the stage – a great presence, a performer who gives her all to an appreciative audience. One of her numbers was a rousing rendition of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B and during the orchestral interlude she boogied down to the front of the stage and grabbed me out of my seat and we did a Jitterbug, one of the two dances I’ve mastered (the other equally complicated one being the Twist). I think Teri was a little surprised.

But the surprise was mine, walking to our car afterwards, remarking to Ann that the night had a special meaning to me because the outcome of the election made the patriotic theme all the more poignant. Where else but in the United States of America can a Barack Obama rise to the highest office? I wrote an open letter to the then Senator Obama about my hopes last May:

The greatness of this nation is its ability to constantly reinvent itself. I wonder what Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin would think of their masterpiece that has managed to survive wars, both internal and external, slavery and reconstruction, depression, assassinations, and the constant ebb and flow of the political tides and, now, more than 200 years later, faces an epic economic crisis. Looking back at some of my prior postings, I lost sight of this underlying strength, our best hope of avoiding the fate of other great nations throughout history. It took a refrain from the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B to remind me of our capacity to rise to such challenges.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day

It’s already started: media advertising inundation announcing Memorial Day sales. It is bad enough that every holiday is turned into a shopping opportunity, but converting Memorial Day to a quick buck is especially disturbing. How many of us will stop to remember, pay homage to the millions who have given life or limb, or have made extraordinary sacrifices to establish our freedoms and protect them? Instead, we head off to the malls or the beach and hardly give a thought to the true meaning of the day. “Lennar Homes announces a Sell-a-thon Memorial Day Weekend Savings!!!”

I think of my father, just a “regular Joe” as he described himself, newly married and having a young son (me), who like so many others went off to WWII. It was not something he wanted to do, and he was ill prepared for the experience. As he said at the conclusion of the war with many soldiers being held in Europe for possible police action, “my desire is so strong, the urge so great to be able to come home again.” But he made those sacrifices.

He never talked much about the war. Maybe that was because he had seen atrocities filming one of the concentration camps at the war’s end as a Signal Corps photographer. Stars and Stripes featured a photograph OF him in one of its pages: “Signal Corps cameraman T/4 Robert Hagelstein, assigned to Ninth Army, ignores the German warning, ‘photography forbidden,’ to shoot movies of activities along the Rhine River March 5, 1945.”,%20Fall/Fall%2001/images/NONO.JPG

Thanks to some of his letters I know how he felt about making the sacrifices of those years:

I, on the other hand, through a number of coincidences, never served in the armed forces. I was married before the VietNam conflict escalated and although I had planned to go into the US Army Reserve, President Kennedy then declared married men “3A” so I did not enlist. By the time they were calling up married men, I already had a son, and continued to be deferred from the draft. Truthfully, I was greatly relieved at the time. But friends of mine were called, and today I feel a sense of self-reproach about not having been among them.

This heightens my great respect for those who served and I think we as a nation owe more to them than just a tip of the hat and a Sell-a-thon. And, I think it behooves us to reflect on the ideals and freedoms our founding fathers so valiantly and brilliantly struggled to establish. David McCullough’s magnificent biography of John Adams provides a behind the scenes view of the birth of our nation and those sacrifices.

“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” -- John Adams