It’s become cliche to say that we all should remember that Memorial Day is about more than picnics at the lake and getting the day off from work. Well, it’s true, regardless. Here’s a couple of Tex-centric videos that cover both sides of the American holiday. Above, James McMurtry recalls stories from his youth and the America of the past. Below, Jason Isbell performs at Stubb’s in Austin and provides a wonderful rendition of his song “Dress Blues,” which is, to me, the greatest war-related song written since the days of the Vietnam conflict. Sorry, I know this is the land of the free and we all have the right to our own opinions, but watch the video below. If you arent moved to at least goose-bumps, if not tears, then something’s not right.
For most folks, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend excuse to go to the lake, take advantage of tax breaks or visit with friends over BBQ and beer. Until recently, it was easy to forget that this is a day for honoring our fallen soldiers. Now that my husband is in the process of joining the Air Force, the importance of both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day have struck me more profoundly than I ever could have imagined.
My dear and wonderful friend, Bill Holston, lost his father, a World War II veteran, in April. Bill was a devoted son spending many work days officing from his father’s bedside at the hospital. In Bill’s own words, “He was a member what Tom Brokaw called the greatest generation. These were hard men from hard times. He reflected the prejudices and the attributes of his generation. He was tough, hard working, fiercely patriotic, and a devoted father, friend and brother. He died peacefully in his sleep at Rockwall Nursing Center.”
Last year, in honor of his father and Veteran’s Day, Bill wrote and recorded the following opinion piece for KERA and with permission, I’m reprinting it here today to serve as a reminder to us all to take a moment this weekend to remember and be grateful to every man and woman who gave their lives for this country:
“Although we Americans don’t always appear to remember the sacrifice of our veterans, there are people in other countries that clearly do. Recently, my 86-year-old father was in the hospital. One of his excellent nurses was from the Philippines. I mentioned to her that my dad had been in the Philippines during World War II. The nurse asked, “During the Japanese Occupation?” I said yes, that he was in the Army Air Corps in the South Pacific and had landed in Manila on the way home. She said, “So, you’re one of those guys who liberated us?”
My dad’s memory is slipping. I pulled up a picture of a bomber on my laptop and asked my dad what it was. He replied without hesitation, “A B-double dozen,” a B-24 Liberator. Dad was a Navigator and had flown long distance missions over the Pacific. This feeble man in the hospital had faced fighters, anti-aircraft fire and the risk of running out of fuel and going down into shark-infested waters. My dad may not recall the names of his neighbors any more, but every Sunday, he calls Vernon, the pilot of his bomber, a retired rancher in Wyoming. They talk as old comrades. They are members of what Shakespeare called a band of brothers.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military in World War II, there are about 2.4 million still living. Over 1,000 die every day. All too soon, it will be too late to ask to hear their stories.
One of the ways I honor these veterans is by attending the monthly meeting of the Happy Warriors, a group of WWII fliers meeting at the Frontiers of Flight Museum. Recently the emcee of the program asked how many of those present flew in combat? Dozens of hands went up. Then he asked “How many still drive at night?” The guys laughed. Quite a few less hands went up.
Joe Gordon, a local architect, once spoke to the group about flying a spotter plane, searching out artillery during the invasion of Germany. He was shot at by anti-aircraft fire and chased by Focke-Wulfes. In the final days of the war, he was shot down and severely injured. Sitting next to me listening was a man who had been captured at the Battle of the Bulge.
Another speaker had been a flight engineer on a B-29 bomber. He was shot down over Japan in the final months of WWII while laying mines in anticipation of the invasion.
After all four of the plane’s engines were on fire, and the plane was in flames, he bailed out. He asked if we knew what is the first thing you do when you bail out. An old man sitting next to me said, “you pray.” He spent the rest of the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He was interrogated and tortured by the Kempeitai, the secret police, was tried as a war criminal and sentenced to death. Before he could be executed, thankfully, the war ended with the Japanese surrender after the second atom bomb.
In May, I went to Arlington National Cemetery. I walked among the simple white crosses. I was moved when I watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then I read this on Robert Kennedy’s memorial: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” These words are true of those men of the greatest generation who fought as liberators over 60 years ago.”
To learn more about John Moore’s beautiful image, please visit here.