Friday, November 14, 2008

Veteran’s Day

Tuesday 11 Nov 2008

I used to subscribe to the Reader’s Digest but recently let it lapse. Then on Veteran’s Day, I received a copy in my mailbox which included this card:

On the other side, it says “Christine Wingeier would like to salute you with this Reader’s Digest gift issue. Thank you for defending our freedom and nation. Every month for a year you will receive a gift issue from a grateful American.” That side also says “Gifts from Grateful Americans” and “Every Issue Captures the Spirit of America!” And that’s really true. We got the Reader’s Digest at home for as long as I can remember.

I think it was just a coincidence that I received it personally – my name is not on it anyplace that I can see. So the mail clerk probably just put it in my box because they were used to seeing me get one. But I can assure Christine Wingeier and everyone else who sends these that they will be read by many people, not just me. When I’m done I’ll place it in a common area and it will get picked up and passed on.

It’s an interesting phenomenon here that reading matter never gets thrown away. Books and magazines are endlessly recycled, passed from person to person or left out in common areas for whoever wants it. So many people over here will enjoy this gift. Thank you. :-)

We had a Veteran’s Day ceremony outside of ASG Headquarters that included a wreath laying, the playing of Taps, and then the end-of-day ceremony of Retreat, when the color guard lowers the flag while the bugle plays “To the Colors” and “Retreat”. As usual, I got a bit choked up and teary as I watched the flag come down. Maybe I watched too many John Wayne movies as a kid, but while participating in Retreat I always seem to think about all the times and places throughout our history that this exact ceremony has been conducted, often in lonely outposts at the edge of civilization. It is one of the small things that helps me to connect to our past and makes me feel very viscerally that I am a part of something enduring and important.

This time, however, there was an additional twist. As the music ended, but while the color guard was still folding the flag, the Qatari Army base behind us began to broadcast the five-times-daily Muslim call to prayer over their loudspeakers. So for the entire time our flag was being folded, the strange chanting drifted across our base, reminding me that although this is not exactly the edge of civilization, we are certainly an outpost. It was an unusual juxtaposition of cultural symbols. For a few moments I felt like a Stranger in a Strange Land.

The news coverage of Veteran’s Day that I saw focused largely on WWI, since it was the 90th anniversary of the end of that war. It felt strange to see the cemeteries in France again. I traveled across France from Germany to Normandy by bicycle in 1984 visiting many battlefields and cemeteries. A few months later I spent an entire weekend in and around Verdun, visiting museums, battlefields, fortifications, monuments, and cemeteries. There is no way to convey the awesome emotional impact of the thousands of crosses, row after row. The human cost of that war was beyond comprehension. On one of the nights that weekend I had the only true nightmare I can remember in my adult life. I awoke sweating and trembling with fear, having dreamt of living though some of the events that had been so vividly evoked by the things I had seen during my visit.

The generation that fought that war is almost completely gone, and the WWII generation is passing. One hopes that the younger people today appreciate what they have and how it was secured for them.

Mood: Reflective
Music: Mozart: Requiem


At 08:59, Anonymous T-Bone USAF said...

Awesome stuff Major. Your writing is inspirational as it helps me get ready for my own deployment. Hope to buy you a coffee in a few months.



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