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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Eve: They Also Serve...

I know war is an ugly thing that should never be glamorized, but on Memorial Day Weekend I think it's fitting that many networks air classic war movies as reminders of the causes and casualties of human conflict and the ultimate cost of defending freedom in a broken world.

This afternoon, my wife and I watched The Pianist (not a typical War movie but a powerful reminder that art can sometimes triumph over destruction). There's another Memorial Day movie I've been drawn into several times since 1998 though it is one of the most gut-wrenching films I've ever seen: Saving Private Ryan.

In the opening scenes of that movie, there is a brief reference to the five Sullivan brothers, from Waterloo, Iowa (my family's hometown for 18 years). One of the first war movies I watched as a kid was called The Fighting Sullivans.
It was a Sunday. Dad called us upstairs to watch "Bill Kennedy's Showtime." That day's movie reminded Dad of him and his brothers, and he wanted his sons to know what it meant to "stick together." If you're unfamiliar with the story, just after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the five Sullivan brothers enlist in the Navy and insist on serving on the same ship, the USS Juneau. Ten months later, the ship is sunk and all five brothers are killed. (Siblings can no longer be on the same ship or in the same platoon, but this tragedy was the seed for the storyline of Saving Private Ryan.)

After watching the movie that day, my brothers and I went down to the toy box and dug out our authentic white sailor hats my dad gave each of us from his time in the Navy Reserves (during the Korean War). Because it was Sunday, Dad would not let us play with any toy guns, but that day he let us wear the hats.

A few weeks ago, I brought home a box of "my things" from Mom's attic, in it was that 55-year-old sailor hat with my name scrawled on it with a blue crayon.

Dad never really talked about his Navy weekends. Like most reservist of that time, he was never called into active duty. He did learn a lot of knots that came in handy and wore his Navy crew-cut for the rest of his life. Beyond that, he formed our views about war, that it was an ugly-but-sometimes necessary thing... and that out of respect for men and reverence for God, his boys would never "play it" on Sunday.
He taught us something else... how to stick together as brothers.
In that respect, John Milton was right:

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

(Kathy, if you're reading this, "brothers" includes you. =)


Blogger Nancy said...

We have commented before about our dad's and their similarity. Memorial Day is an appropriate day to discuss both of them and honor their memory. My dad was a WWII Navy vet and all of your thoughts hit home, especially...
"he formed our views about war, that it was an ugly-but-sometimes necessary thing..." My American pride has deep roots.

The following also holds true for my family, except substitute the word brothers for sisters...
"He taught us something else... how to stick together as brothers." I also taught my kids this... substituting the word brothers with family and I tried to teach my kindergarten kids this too. "Sticking together"... that is a blessing indeed!

I love your PS to your sister!

26/5/08 7:03 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

This is a great post and had my thoughts stirring. I too noticed that sly wink to your sister which is so considerate and loving. I am wondering now which war movie is most meaningful to me. I 'll have to think about it.

26/5/08 9:14 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I do remember our fathers were both Navy, and it seems to me your father also had a crew cut.
There were so many times that Dad would stress how brothers look out for each other. I remember one time we all got equally punished for breaking something in the garage. Only one of us broke it, but we all got spanked good and had to sit in silence for an hour. It was a good bonding experience. =)

Yes, I always try to include my big sister who always looked out for me. Dad's family had his sister, Betty, and then four boys. We had our first-born sister Kathy and then four boys so our family stories sometimes took the same twists.

26/5/08 11:37 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

The world would have been a very different place now if the American fellows had not gone into Europe and the South Pacific and saved everyone's bacon. Sometimes I wonder if the rest of the world realizes just how much they owe the Americans for that.

27/5/08 12:14 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Josie,
Believe it or not, I have a Brit friend who seems to think England (and its European allies) would have won without American intervention.
When you and I were kids, the Union Jack flew over Canada. I love our British Allies, but I think you are right and most historians would agree. Thank you for those kind words on this American holiday. Here's to John Gillespie Magee, Jr. who wrote "High Flight " before serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force (He was killed in action and "slipped the surly bonds of earth and... touched the face of God.")

LGS, By the way, I think one of my favorite war movies is "Sergeant York" with Gary Cooper (and the "documentaries of John Ford).

27/5/08 1:04 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

You're dating yourself with all of your film selections and Bill Kennedy Tom. ha ha ha Do you remember when he had hair plugs installed during commercials?

My father enlisted in the navy 1936. He needed money for college. Grandma and Gramps never had a chance when it came to the depression as far as being able to stay a strong $$ course.

On Dec 7, 1941 his ship was out of Pearl resupplying the outlying bases. He never talked about war, only about being out to sea. Funny thing is, in the few surviving pictures all his buddies and him had beer in their hands, a hip flask bulge and were obviously "happy".

10 years of carrier duty in the Pacific was enough for him though. He never could talk of war and we never understood it until later, when we saw the Zeros trying to fly into the place where his duty station was. the Con tower.

30 & 40 years later he still had nightmares. Ah well he sleeps now dreamlessly in the honored place reserved for all men of war.


27/5/08 1:31 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It seems to me I read about a young sailor in the 70's who wanted nothing more than to spend the night under the stars at sea. You, too, were a Navy man as I recall.

27/5/08 3:45 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

It was the old man's Navy stories about the sea, that and something about wanting to ride the back of an ocean.

Of course the two most memorable things I heard while in the navy were, "Durfee, you're just like a little kid, always hurting yourself." and the infamous "...it Carl! You're going to hit the pier, sound the collision alarm!!" Both spoken by the cap'n.

The ship got repaired and I went on to break numerous bones over the course of years. ha ha ha ha ha


28/5/08 2:05 AM  
Blogger Cheri said...

I cannot share this memory- my father was spared Vietnam when the draft ended just days before his card would have been called up. His father was not a vet, nor my mother's father (who was not born an American). I have more friends who have enlisted than family members- undoubtably due to being very impressionable our final year of high school when we sat in class and watched planes crash into buildings.

I was just commenting on Mark's blog that I have always wondered how other countries feel about their patriotism regarding their soldiers- are they considered heros and held in the highest regards, not only for protecting the well-being of the people but for also being willing to sacrifice their lives in doing so?

Saving Private Ryan nearly always brings me to tears.

28/5/08 9:17 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

This was a nice way to remember both Memorial Day and your Father.

28/5/08 10:01 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It's been a few years since I read that Navy story about sleeping on the deck under the stars.

Like your classmates, I have had some former students who have proudly served in Iraq. The most frustrating thing they share with me is that, unlike the generation of WWII, the current generation of TV viewers and voters is inclined to remain blind to the good things happening as a result of our fighting men and women and their fight against the enemy in Iraq.
I will say this... at least this current generation is trying hard not to spit on military like the country did to our boys who served in the 60's and early 70's.

Dr. John,
Hope you're having fine weather up in the U.P. It's beautiful down here.

28/5/08 9:43 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Reading your post stirred several thoughts and emotions.

My dad served in the Navy until he died January 1965. I was not yet 2 when dads life ended so I have no 1st hand memories of him. I do recall that while in school I was always proud to say that my dad died while on active duty for our country. As a young boy I made him out to be a military hero, I believed he was.
Dad as it turned out really was not a military hero-except in my mind.
While he didn't earn hero status from our country, Dad will always be a hero to me.

Thanks for stirring some of these thoughts.

29/5/08 9:15 PM  

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