After World War II Armistice Day (a day assigned for the remembrance 0f those who died in war) was morphed into two days of remembrance: Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the former to remember veterans and the latter to remember all those who have died in war.

fripp 2010 023Traditionally Armistice Day was celebrated with a two-minute silence at 11am on November 11; the dead were remembered in the first minute and the survivors in the second.

As the son of a veteran I’m keen on these remembrances.  My father never talked much about his service and most of what I learned about his time as an infantryman in World War II has come from others.  My Dad was a POW in Germany and fought in The Battle of the Bulge.  I can remember being a kid on the beach of Lake Michigan wondering what in the world happened to my Dad’s toenails.  Later I learned about what happened to his feet. It was the dead of winter and my Dad and two other soldiers were held captive in a barn. Their captors had taken their boots but they escaped by running through the snow for miles.  When telling me that story my Dad recalled that it was his idea to run for it and that one soldier stayed behind thinking that that was just what the captors were waiting for.  Today I imagine the three of them having a debate in that barn about whether to run or not – peering at the soldiers on the porch of the farmhouse on the hilltop above them and wondering if they were watching.  When my father and the other soldier disappeared into the woods the third soldier ran for it too.  All three survived.

Another story I’ll never forget was told to me by my Dad’s step-father, who served at the same time as my Dad did:  When the war was over my father’s “last act” was (unofficially) to give the horse he rode to patrol the mountains in Germany to a farmer… an act that was the equivalent to the definition of the word armistice: a coming to peace despite differences. fripp 2010 016Grandpa Fred also told me that one of my father’s early experiences of the horrors of war was seeing his best friend’s head blown off and that my Dad went to war one man and came back another.  I can hear my Dad’s voice in the voices of the uncle and his buddies in Bob Hicok’s heart-wrenching Memorial Day poem:

The semantics of flowers on Memorial Day

    Historians will tell you my uncle
wouldn’t have called it World War II
or the Great War plus One or Tombstone

    over My Head. All of this language
came later. He and his buddies
knew it as get my ass outta here

    or fucking trench foot and of course
sex please now. Petunias are an apology
for ignorance, my confidence

    that saying high-density bombing
or chunks of brain in cold coffee
even suggests the athleticism

    of his flinch or how casually
he picked the pieces out.
Geraniums symbolize the secrets

    life kept from him, the wonder
of variable-speed drill and how
the sky would have changed had he lived

    to shout it’s a girl. My hands
enter dirt easily, a premonition.
I sit back on my uncle’s stomach

    exactly like I never did, he was
a picture to me, was my father
looking across a field at wheat

    laying down to wind. For a while,
Tyrants’ War and War of World Freedom
and Anti-Nazi War skirmished

    for linguistic domination. If
my uncle called it anything
but too many holes in too many bodies

    no flower can say. I plant marigolds
because they came cheap and who knows
what the earth’s in the mood to eat.

In 2013 the Veterans Administration reported that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day – one suicide every 65 minutes.  That’s ten times the number killed in combat for the same time period and more grim is the fact that because many veteran suicides go unreported this number might actually be lower than is actually the case.

If you haven’t done so yet, take two minutes to remember and pray for all those who have died and for all those who serve and try to survive.

    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.


*As some may have noticed, portions of today’s post appeared in two earlier entries (one written on Armistice Day in 2013 and the other Memorial Day in 2014).

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10 Responses to Remembering

  1. In those days, women weren’t allowed to enlist. But actually, the war toll on women was also severe. Men would come home and not be the same person they were before. And another silent war would be fought in the souls of the women they loved. So let’s remember the silent Others of the soldiers and the women soldiers of today.

  2. Bob Sellery says:

    Laurence Binion 1869 – 1943
    They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, not the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. Not as good as yours, Jim. A Brit battlefield guide told us about this one.

  3. But I still don’t like that word: “fucking” I want to be well spoken. My parents use that word all the time. I want a tall brain, spiritually. I want to use beautiful and great words. I suppose for a soldier it’s a necessity. But I’ve been a warrior in Karate in a small way and I don’t use the word. We are very courteous in martial arts.

  4. The Sensei at the high level and the lovely Karateka know that you will always lose the war. You will either lose a country or your soul or a best friend. So a great monk once said that you must have peace in your heart so that nothing can be done to your spirit. So in Karate, you must find your 1.relaxation 3. deep peace. Then when the enemy comes, like this monk, you meet the bullet or spear pointed at you unblinking and glorifying God.

  5. lostratton says:

    This has been a very moving Memorial Day. We went to the Mall last night to watch the ceremony on the Capitol steps and then saw the repeat of the event on TV this morning. There were profoundly touching commentaries by veterans, wives and leaders. I was remembering how my very young siblings and I experienced the war–black outs in New Haven, squashing cans for recycling, standing in line for rationed food. But mostly I have been moved by the stories of those who served. We will make our annual visit to Will’s father’s grave site at Arlington Cemetery when the crowds disperse.

  6. janeschubert says:

    amien and amien! !

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

  7. Sensei just means teacher. Jim is a Sensei. The Sensei is a worthy teacher who teaches you to lose the war (to die because we all die) with dignity and meaning.

  8. Bob Sellery says:

    Leave Jim alone on the language. He says/remembers it like it is/was. Soldiers talk that way, and even worse.

  9. Jo says:

    Sometimes we just need to listen; the response can reside within us.

  10. Lives of martyrdom are probably less understood than deaths by martyrdom. Soldiers who live long lives wanting to die and finally die have the kind of beauty only a true saint knows.

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