War, loss and memories

Old section of West Point's Cemetery

Old section of West Point’s Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Memorial Day, how is it for those whose losses are real? How must it feel to go through another — or maybe your first — weekend when the whole country mourns with you,  then watch things return to normal for everyone else while they’ll never be normal again for you. Watch everyone else making new memories when you’re just trying to hang onto the old.

I was thinking this morning about my friend Dave. I can’t even bring his face into focus any more.

Dave was in the West Point graduating class of 1951, which was pretty much decimated by “the forgotten war” — Korea. We were pinned — do people still “get pinned” I wonder? — before he left that last time.

The “forgotten war” took place throughout most of the years when I was in college. It was soon enough after World War II that wars were perceived as between good guys and bad guys; we were the good guys. The draft was in place, Vietnam was years away, military service was a given for most young men. On New Year’s Eve at the Army/Navy Club in Washington recent West Point graduates tended to talk about who wasn’t there.

When the armistice was signed in July, 1953, a collective sigh of relief could be heard across the U.S. But two days after the armistice, Dave was killed by someone on the other side who hadn’t gotten the word. I never went to another New Year’s Eve party at the Army/Navy Club. After a couple of notes back and forth with Dave’s family, we lost touch.

Sometimes around Memorial Day, though, I wonder how they survived. Dave was smart, funny, gregarious, and loved the Army. He wanted eventually to become a military doctor.  He would have been 23 in another few months.

The Peace prize & the 20th Century

While applauding Mr. Obama, I’m among those who wish the Nobel folks had waited. I do hope peace might actually, some day, happen in the world, but given last century’s record, things are chancy at best.

My father, born in 1897, used to talk a lot about world peace. His father, born just after the end of the Civil War, lost two of his five sons to World War I, but he took comfort in the certainty that peace would abound from then on. He died in the mid-1930s, presumably not looking very closely at Germany.

My father was an eternal, though not unrealistic, optimist. The afternoon we learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed we gathered around the Philco radio to listen to Mr. Roosevelt, and my father talked about what a terrible thing war was. But for a few years we had that one, the last ‘good’ war. There was optimism after it ended but not much peace, because we plunged right into the Cold War.

In 1953 my father — Earl Moreland was his name, he was a good guy — was president of the Virginia United Nations Association and brought Eleanor Roosevelt to Richmond to speak on — world peace. It was a plum for my fresh-out-of-college first PR job and a memorable time for me, since I got to pick up Mrs. Roosevelt at the quonset hut that passed for Richmond’s airport at the time and watch that singular lady in action. She was eloquent and reservedly hopeful. For a while in the 1950s peace seemed dimly possible, if you could look beyond SEATO and the Geneva Accords and a few issues with Communism, and ignore (as many of us did) the plight of the Palestinians.

Then came Vietnam. If that war seemed endless, which it was, at least after we made our ungraceful exit there was another tiny hope that somehow there might be a little peace… as long as you ignored the North/South Vietnam problems and weren’t looking at Israel and Palestine.

My father was a big fan of Anwar Sadat. When Jimmy Carter managed that little sit-down with Mr. Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David, I was visiting my father at his home a hundred or so miles south. This time we hunkered in front of the little living room TV set, and I remember my father saying “By George! I think we could see peace over there one day.” Well, we did hope. Of course, by then it was getting close to time to start looking at Afghanistan, a country many Americans (certainly including this one) thought of more as a storybook land than a real place where one bunch of people have been fighting with another bunch of people since time immemorial.

The rest is (more recent) history. It will be evident that this space is not the History Channel, but more precisely one woman’s view of the 20th century and the peace in our time that didn’t exactly happen. American Nobel peace laureates Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry Kissinger — MLK, definitely a peacemaking sort but Henry Kissinger? — and Jimmy Carter didn’t formulate much 20th century peaceable wisdom for their 21st century follower.

Barack Obama is a believer, in hope, and peace, and possibilities. I wish him well.