Monday, May 26, 2008

I Got Nothing


by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

PILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

I've been trying to put together a post, something that somehow ties in the way wartime experience runs through your life like a thread. A thread that sometimes helps with the body of the cloth, sometimes it's a detriment, but it remains always there.

I got nothing. Everything I've tried to write for the last week or so has turned out to be nothing but suck. Major suck.

An old friend, it may seem strange that a dedicated skeptic like myself would number a career Navy Chaplin, among his friends, but I do. My friend, who we derisively called "Chaplin Charlie" even though his name was Jim, is very ill. He has been developing blood clots in his legs and it seems every time they do a procedure to repair the problem, things get worse. Jim was a good and decent man who found himself in a place that was in very short supply of goodness and decency. While we were talking during a visit I made last week he remembered what he says was the most significant encounter he and I had in Viet Nam. At the least most important encounter that didn't involve a poker game. That's where we spent most of our time together. We were at a point in an action with the enemy where ammunition and men fit for action were in short supply. I saw Jim, toting a rifle and wearing a helmet with his white cross insignia taking a place on the line with the rest of us. I went over to him and suggested that he would be more effective assisting the horribly overburdened medics. I told him that he was better in providing comfort and allowing us to inflict the damage. I had his rifle and I held it up and told him that in his hands the rifle was a good man making a noble gesture, but in my hands it was a list of enemy casualties. I said "You're a good man Commander, but kindness and decency aren't what we need here. Besides, the fastest reload is another weapon. Thanks." Then I went about my business and he went to go see the medics.

We probably would not have been able to withstand another assault for more than a few minutes. Luck, and a squad of Cobras turned the day. When the assaulting troops realized that the central command structure had recovered enough to begin supporting the outer bases they broke off and went back to ground like good guerrilla fighters always do. The next time I saw Jim he was at the helo pad helping to load off supplies and load in casualties, of which there were a great many. I went over to him and tried to salute to show my profound respect. We ended up hugging instead.

We've stayed in touch over the years. He and his wife retired to La Jolla and that made it very easy. I've never gotten religion, but I've been glad to have such a good man as my friend. I've played the harp when ever he's asked me for it. Two weddings of two daughters, and next week, the wedding of a granddaughter. He wanted to go over the song list for his funeral that last visit and I told him if he dies on me I'm picking the fucking songs and to expect stuff like "Louie, Louie."

The second guy on my mind is Larry, the Sergeant Major, now deployed in Afghanistan. I fear for him, for his family. When I hear John McCain talking about a hundred years of military presence I think of folks who wear the uniforms in the service of fools. A hundred years? Alexander had one of the greatest armies in history, and they were only able to sustain a continuous combat footing for ten years. McCain ain't no Alexander.

So, this Memorial Day, I don't intend to be all patriotic and shit. There won't be any public displays from me. I'm going to be thinking about my friends, probably call a couple of them and we'll try and convince each other that shit really meant something and that God's in his fucking heaven and all's right with the goddamned world.

We know better, but refuse to say it out loud.



Blogger Lisa said...

This brought tears to my eyes, as always, for your raw honesty.

We received a private letter today criticizing a recent post of ours, saying our p.o.v. was too cynical, and offering to help the blog writer become embedded so that he might get a perkier view of things.

I wrote back to Jim: "People are unaccustomed to hearing the truth and cannot take it.

"You are not denigrating the Marines. You are saying the opn. was a waste of time. Shah is regrouping elsewhere, and that's a fact. If people spoke those facts, they'd have to admit it's all Disneyworld, and then who would read Mr.---'s book?"

Thank you, MB, for your braveness, clarity, and brave clarity.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Deborah Newell said...

Sometimes, in order to write the good stuff, you have to get out of your own way and just tell the bloody story.

As you did here.

And I know I speak for many in saying that this post is, by orders of magnitude, more moving, more real, and more significant than anything a politician could muster on this day.

I watched Recount on HBO last night, and felt violent goosebumps in the final scenes, when James Baker tell's Kevin Spacey's character that it will all be good. And Spacey replies, "I hope you're right, sir. I hope you're right."

How fitting that the movie premiered the day before Memorial Day. I wonder how many of our numb citizenry will get it, though, will get the connection.


Thank you for your service and for your friendship and support, S.


11:25 AM  
Blogger jurassicpork said...

Dude, you can snuggle your back up against my lamppost, sole of your "fuck me" stiletto heels two feet up against it and whore Harp and Sword all you want.

Great story, thanks, as was the one you shared with us last year about that tragic young man with whom you'd served in 'Nam.

I'm not doing anything more patriotic than deadcatting the Bush administration for its transparent hypocrisy, which is really all anyone can reasonably expect of me. The rest of the third day of my three day weekend is going to be spent working on my novel, which takes more than its share of potshots at said administration. In some spots, it's blogging only at a much higher level.

However, if you're looking for something to write about, I started another blog post about an amazing coincidence that I really haven't the time to expand. If you're interested, "Come up and see me sometime...", big boy.

11:47 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i too watched "recount" and was thrown back into that time when scoundrels took the fuck over.

the most notable difference in the two camps that i saw then, and keep seeing is that the democrats were trying to figure out a way to count the votes. the republicans wanted to declare victory.

before those shameful decisions, first to stop the recount, and then to stop the recount because, well, they had stopped the recount. i kept a measure of respect for the legal mind of scalia. since then, i've seen him for what he will be since that day, a fucking hack in the service of bastards.

none of us were served by those fuck heads. they proved that to them, in the words of their "winner," the constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper.

i don't even know if we will ever begin to undo the damage they have done to our nation, our system, and our laws.

they made for damn sure that we'll never really know who won that election. they made it so that al gore, even if he could have proven that he did win, was a loser.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me Memorial Day is always a sad day of reflection with an aray of confusing emotions. I think about old friends that didn't make it out of VN, friends that did and that bond that we share. I also think about my uncles and the soldiers of their era. However in the last five yrs it evokes a rage in me at the hypocrisy of those in power waving the flag.

A couple of days ago I read Dahr Jamail's post of an article by Kristofer Shawn Goldsmith(The Hard Truth on Sadr City, Iraq, and the Deplorable Treatment of Veterans in America) who testified at the Winter Soldiers hearings. I was fuming with rage at the military, the flag waving gullible public and those in power who have so abused this country. I forwarded it to all my relatives under the heading Happy Memorial Day. I got one reply from my anti war cousins wife thanking me for my service to our country. The rest continue to stick their head in the sand!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just got back from a walk down the street to visit my aunt and uncle, He drove a tank for general patton in france and is in poor health now.

He's never said alot about the experience, but he was in the battle of the bulge.

My hat's off to all vets, and to you Minstrel I wish well.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Hubris Sonic said...

Nice piece. Thanks.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Sherry Pasquarello said...

thank you, for everything.

5:50 PM  
Blogger BadTux said...

For someone who said he had nothing, you certainly said something very well.

And yes, we tell ourselves the same old lies, year after year. Because the truth... the truth shall set us free, but freedom is so harsh and cold and slavery to our lies so reassuring and comforting. Because let us not be fools. We are slaves to our lies, of which far too many revolve around this day. And the young men march off to war, secure in the lies of honor and glory. Dulce et Decorum Est. This penguin shall go have a herring chaser after a cod liver oil cocktail, for the lies become unsettling as one grows older, though often people dismiss it as simple indigestion. But there is nothing simple about that indigestion...

- Badtux the Somber Penguin

8:46 PM  
Blogger Myrtle June said...

That's a fine Memorial Day writing, Minstrel Boy. Thank you for your service and for your great post. Big Hug.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

Godspeed to Chaplain Charlie and the Sergeant Major. Thank you, my friend, for speaking the truth.

6:20 AM  
Blogger Bukko Boomeranger said...

Great post, MB. Sorry about your friend's blood clots. I see it all the time, and it's tought to beat. No one here gets out of here alive. All the more reason to take a moment now and then to appreciate that you can still move around under your own power.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your friend the Sergeant Major for reasons that I barely comprehend. What deeper comprehension I have I owe in part to you.

9:21 PM  

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