Friday, November 11, 2011

The Talk We Need - A Veterans Day Thought

There's a lot of talk these days everywhere you turn. Sometime taking a position, giving an opinion, analyzing a situation, criticizing someone. On TV and radio, on cell phones. Even cartoons, if you believe that. An article in the NY Times says cartoons these days are loaded with dialogue while lacking movement. They're right. Road Runner doesn't talk, neither did Tom and Jerry. They moved, we laughed. Then of course there's Charlie Chaplin who made the world laugh and cry without saying a word.

So what's the point of this diatribe? Veterans Day. Today. Look back more than six decades ago, to World War 2. A lot of our troops never came home. Sadly, tens of thousands died in Europe and the Pacific. Most of our men came home though. But there's a sadness in that as well.  Because so many of them never talked about what happened there, what they saw, how it affected them.  And what they carry with them now, more than 60 years later.  It’s not easy for them to talk about their experiences, especially to their families.  But isn’t it a shame that these men who earned the right to talk have chosen to keep it all in?  Tim Russert of “Meet the Press” said they possess a “quiet eloquence.”  I like that.  Quiet eloquence.

I used to play senior softball with a guy named Charlie. He’s 85 years old now. I told him about a book I had read, called “Flags of Our Fathers.”  It’s the story of a young man who learns that his dad was one of the six guys who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.  He found out about it after his dad had passed away.  Charlie said, “Gerry, I was on Iwo  too.”  He surprised me.  I knew he was a Marine, but not much else.  I asked him if he’d ever told his wife or his kids about what he went through.  He said, “They never asked, they didn’t seem interested.  Anyway we were just doing a job.”  Quiet eloquence.  Still, I could feel there were undercurrents in his life he didn’t want to acknowledge.

I wonder how many stories and memories are locked up.  How many sons and daughters, and grand children, will never know what Pop or Grandpa went through.  Time keeps on moving.  The older we get, the faster it moves.  I hope there’s time for these men to bring their families into their past.  I hope they talk about it.  It’s the kind of talk we need.


  1. Strangely, my ex-father-in-law never talked about his Iwo experience either, although he loves talking with me about the Marine Corps (we were both Sgts, different eras). However, he saw "Flags of our Fathers" with my son and spotted the burning U.S. plane coming in for a landing on the island and remarked, "I was there. That plane wasn't smoking when it came in." Since then he's talked more and more about landing on the Island. He was in the first wave and miraculously survived half the occupation. I think it's taken all these year. I've been told he never, ever wanted to talk about it. Perhaps now he has to.

  2. Perhaps the suvrvivors feel guilty that they lived, when so many other good men died. So often they say, "The real heroes are still over there," meaning they died there. Certainly they don't want to be showered with glory for having lived through something so ugly. I respect that. Like my Irish ancestors who lived through the Famine and would never talk about it. It's best left behind.

  3. Nice piece on this Veteran's Day. I hope you are capturing many of these stories for the families.

  4. Gerry--That's definitely true. I imagine many of the memories are so painful, the vets don't want to share them. It would be like picking at a huge scab, never allowing it to completely heal.

    In the Silver Boomers' book, The Harsh and the Heart," I wrote about my dad's military experience. Unfortunately, he died without ever sharing that part of his life. My mom had to tell his story instead...