Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

There is a war poem that was once known by most interested and informed Americans.  It's called "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner."  It was written by Randall Jarrell and published in 1945.  We don't know it today because, I think, it is too real, too graphic, too ugly.  It makes us too uncomfortable.  It makes us pray that our lost loved ones didn't depart like that.  But many did.  It's what war does.

I'd like to know what you think it means or if you think it has any meaning at all.  I think its point was to tell Americans that our military was not dying dignified, quick, clean, comic-book shot-through-the-brisket deaths.  That's a lie told so that we can sleep.

No, they were (and are and always have been) dying deaths of unspeakable horror and terror and pain.  So if we support a war it asks us to at least consider what it is that we support.  Men and women are dying because we asked them to and we knew they would die.  It doesn't seem too much of a burden to ask us to read about or watch what we asked for.  It's little enough.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
By Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

"Do not go gentle into that good night...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
     -- Dylan Thomas

The day is coming to a close here.  Did I dare enjoy it?  Yes I did, but I also remembered the ball turret gunner, the tanker, the red leg and the grunt and those whose pieces we couldn't find.

Happy Memorial Day

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

It's time to mourn them again, we who confine our mourning to government-sanctioned holidays.  Today we mourn those who died at the hands of our enemies while defending our freedom, our rights, our traditions, our nation. Your right, in point of fact, to ignore their sacrifices and pursue the pleasures they paid for.  But you won't do that, will you?  Please?

I have written about this day before, in 2009, in 2010 and in 2013.  Their sacrifices haunt me.  All that I am and all that I have was paid for by men and women whom I never knew.  Except for Larry Swarbrick.

Don't be afraid to laugh today, to enjoy, to love, to rest.  The day is meant for that, too.  That's why we fly our flags at half mast only until noon in their honor and at full mast thereafter to honor America.  Oh, you didn't know that?

But remember them today, those who will never again visit us, never go on another picnic with us, never again kiss us.  Once they were like us, and they wanted to.

In the last line of the movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri, RADM Tarrant (Fredric March) says, after a successful bombing raid that suffered heavy losses and while launching the next raid, "Where do we get such men?"  Where, indeed?  

Thank you.  I remember.  Every day.


If our soldiers are not overburdened with 
money, it is not because they have a distaste 
for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is 
not because they are disinclined to longevity.

Sun Tzu