Extending Memorial Day

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LIFE magazine, June 27, 1969, featuring a portrait of U.S. Army specialist William C. Gearing, Jr., one of 242 American servicemen killed in a single week of fighting during the Vietnam War.

In the Ward family, birthdays routinely stretch into weeks, Mother’s Day is an attitude, and even Christmas can be shifted to accommodate the complicated schedules of our extended, blended families …

… So bear with me if I insist on extending Memorial Day past midnight Monday. (I believe they deserve it, those who have died in the service of our country.)

I was 12 the year Life magazine published its controversial project called “A Week’s Dead” in the June 27 1969 issue of the still popular news and lifestyle magazine. The project, stuffed between ads for cigarettes and booze, included vignettes of 242 men who had died “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam” during the week of May 28 to June 3, 1969 – which included that year’s observance of Memorial Day. (There were photographs of most, and basic information for all.)

In the introduction to the 11 full yearbook-style pages (plus a few additional photos), Life editors expressed their concern that the nation was being “numbed by a three-digit statistic which is translated to direct anguish in in hundreds of homes all over the country” and urged that we “must pause to look into the faces.”

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Isaiah 2:4: “[N]either shall they learn war any more”

I am privileged to teach in a first-year writing program at a northeastern U.S. university that allows me to draw in readings as I see fit, as long as the structure of the class follows a model shared by other classes in the program.

My class is called “War Stories.” Everything we read has something to do with war.

Most classes have read large sections of Homer’s “Iliad” (a modern translation, although we dove back into older translations to explore language variations). We always read from Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, about the Civil War. We view John Trumbull’s paintings from the Revolutionary war and photographs from the Civil War. We read British soldier/poets of World War I, including Wilfred Owen’s often-anthologized “Dulce et Decorum est.” We might read Elie Wiesel’s Night, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five, we might see movies (always by Stanley Kubrick), and we end with modern conflicts: Vietnam and Iraq.

This is not a history class. Neither does it seek to glorify war or warriors. (Hence the reference to Isaiah 2:4: “… neither shall they learn war any more.”) But we do read a lot about war and its often debilitating consequences.

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What scares me about Trump? The numbers.

The compiled video * of lunch counter civil rights protesters being assaulted in North Carolina and Mississippi in the 1960s, now “narrated” by actual audio of Donald Trump speaking about protests at his own rallies, has almost certainly cleared 10 million views by now, and the responses are predictable:

  • Many of those who are already outraged by Trump find reinforcement for their outrage.
  • Many of those who endorse what Trump says find the video amusing.

We are entrenched.

We are beyond any point of return or compromise.

Unlike the lead-up to most elections, there is very little element of “undecided” about how we approach the Republican soon-to-be-nominee. **

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“Lift off.”

An address from, to, for the Class of 2016 in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, by Donovan Livingston, Ed.M. ’16 – which phrasing sells way short what you will experience if you play this brief and inspiring video.

[Some very brief biographical information: Mr. Livingston is a 2009 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill (BA History), earned an MA from Teachers College in 2011, and became a member of Phi Beta Sigma in 2008.]

And here, for posterity, is the transcript of Mr. Livingston’s address, as provided by the Harvard website:

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Memorial Day

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(Above photo by Todd Heisler / Rocky Mountain News)

Monday, May 30, 2016, is this year’s Memorial Day – a federal holiday set aside to honor Americans who died while serving in our nation’s military.

Officially, the day has been noted in some manner since 1868, when it was called Decoration Day. It is not to be confused with Veterans Day – Nov. 11 – which honors all of our nation’s veterans.

Monday – Memorial Day – is a time to honor the more than 1.3 million Americans who have perished during their service over the 241 years of our wars and conflicts and operations, from the beginning of the Revolution that brought us our independence, through Operation Inherent Resolve.

Lily Burana’s extraordinary post from the May 2012 New York Times, along with Todd Heisler’s image of love, heartbreak, dedication, tell a story that echoes across all those years.

~

In my own family, we will be honoring my Great-Great-Great-Uncle August Heller …

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