Monday, November 11, 2013

Armistice day 2013...

On 11/11 at 11:00, I found myself at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery.

A couple of miles away I passed through Fere-en-Tardenois.  Great minds 

 think alike, that was the scene in the town square at the memorial. They even had the band.

Even though it's full of places like this

most of the names in the visitor's books at U. S. cemeteries now

are French. They remember.

It was as pretty a day as you could hope for- cool and clear.  As usual, the cemetery was immaculate. I hope it is a long time until we abandon these places.

     The capitals on the columns were planned by men who lived the war:

     Only  some Doughboy would have thought to include a can of corned Bill in this monument for Posterity.

     Alas I did not have my camera, just a telephone one so none of my tombstone pictures came out. A few things struck me as I strolled the lanes.

     A lot of the death dates are in 1919. The war ended on the 11th, but peritonitis, burn infection,  ordnance disposal, truck wrecks, and the 'flu kept going.

     There are several civilians, probably YMCA workers or some such.

     Interesting to see so many now obsolete ranks. I saw stevedore, bugler, wagoner, chauffeur, field clerk, and some others.

       We forget the uniting force of the War. This  cemetery holds mainly draftees.  Everyone got drafted- white and black, English speaker and Bohunk. Americans still practiced all sorts of segregation and all sorts of prejudice were standard. The foul creature Wilson led the way, racially segregating the Civil Service to please his Democratic Party base in the Solid South.  Yankee aristocrats and West Virginia miners and Mississippi sharecroppers would have never met in ordinary 1914 life.

     Here they are together, indiscriminately. It took a while to live up to it, but our country looks like this graveyard now.

     The names were interesting. Only about half had middle names or initials. Lots of Williams and Johns and Roberts, of course. My companion and I remarked on the names one never hears now, redolent of obscure Bible stories and the mountains of Bohemia.  And there were several short versions- I saw Charley, Mike, and Jack. And Joyce, too.

     Which led  me to a new sad thought.

     Of course all these men had stories that they never got to finish. Every one of them had a goal, a plan. Start a business.  Go back to the mill and work up to foreman. Teach at the school. Build up the family farm.  Take a correspondence course. Marry the girl. Play catch with the boy.  Go fishing with the Old Man or eat Mother's peach cobbler.  Shoot craps with the fellows on the corner. Sit under a tree on a hot day and chew on a blade of grass.

     Not one of those dreams happened.

     Every one of these men started a telegram, and with it a new batch of stories. Every one of those telegrams had one of these names on it.

      Where did they get Charley and Giovanni and Asa? The same way we get our Jamal and Chip. 

      Every one of those names was chosen carefully by proud parents for their perfect little son, their hope.

      Let's use uncle's name.  Daniel is fine, a brave Prophet.  Alright, we'll call him after YOUR father. Jövünk Magyarországról, de mi hívjuk George Washington elnök után.  You're my best pal, will you stand up at the christening?

     And all those mothers and fathers saw all those names on all those telegrams.

     Everyone who votes for a war, everyone who cheerleads for one, should have to do it from a place like this.

     Oh, and one more thing. We were there for an hour and a half.

          Had the place to ourselves.


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