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War is War, Then and Now, Now and Forever
2008 started with the new experience of watching a loved one go off to war in what was the largest muster of troops in Indiana since World War II. As I cooked my eldest grandson's favorite breakfast of pancakes, I saw in my mind's eye little Billy and the twins perched at the bar, gobbling pancakes as quickly as they were cooked. He is "Bill" now, a man setting forth to do manly things - too soon, too soon!
Bundled up against the near-zero temperature, we drove him and his wife to the Indianapolis Zoo, from where a shuttle bus took us to the RCA Dome. I encountered first-hand the Army slogan "Hurry up and wait." We arrived shortly after 9 a.m., but the proceedings didn't begin until 1 p.m.
Some of the fellows didn't look big enough to carry a rifle. A petite girl in combat boots had one pack on her back, another on her chest. Guys who didn't look old enough to be fathers cuddled babies. A couple held hands, gazed soulfully into one another's eyes, whispered, and gave each other little pecks. Two young wives sat in front of us, each with a toddler.
While the crowd of over 20,000 waited, many of the 3,500 soldiers came into the stands for final hugs. Megan and Vicki will see Bill again in Georgia before he leaves for Iraq. Sitting there, I realized that all of us, strangers to each other, shared common emotions, fears and hopes for these men and women who are being sent to the most dangerous duty of driving Humvees and guarding supply caravans. It was hard to think of things to say during those last hours. All around me everyone spoke the same language: "Love you!" "Love you, too!" "Keep safe." "I will." "Be careful." "I will." "Write!" A young woman - really, just a girl - said her goodbyes and then turned when she reached the aisle and blew a kiss: "Bye, Grams. Love you!"
I saw no big displays of emotion. This was a time for a stiff upper lip. Those around me didn't shed tears, but I suspect that many were crying in their hearts as I was. At last, the mayor of Indianapolis, the governor, congressmen, Senator Lugar and military brass spoke. No doubt they were sincere, but eventually words like "our pride," "the nation is grateful to you and your families for your sacrifice," "brave," "heroes," "a noble cause," and "the best that Indiana has to offer" fell on my ears like so many gung-ho, morale-boosting platitudes.
The speaker who resonated with me was the mayor, who had left his family to go off to war himself.
My life has been full of confluences where events run together. The older we are, the more past experiences we have to be evoked by current events. I was just a kid during World War II, but the memories are vivid: My parents, clucked Beverly, needed a light while she got ready to go to work at Perfect Circle in Hagerstown. Knightstown was under black-out orders lest a light guide German bombers. Mother said that I was helping the war effort by stomping on tin cans to flatten them before they were turned in to be recycled. Mother had a ration book with coupons for sugar and shoes. At least one of my sisters had a baby while her husband was gone. Neighbor women went with each other to the hospital. Beverly went with Lois Frazier when Barbara was born.
Don't tell me that the Holocaust didn't happen. I saw battered snapshots that my Knightstown brother-in-law, Orville Jones, had of emaciated people and skeletal bodies that were stacked like cordwood in a small concentration camp. Another brother-in-law, Arnold Thurston, lived through the Battle of the Bulge, where he crawled on his belly, directing tank traffic with a whistle. "That wasn't when I was the most scared," he said. "It was when I was going down a narrow road on a motorcycle, and a plane strafed me. I jumped off into the ditch, and the motorcycle went on down the road. Messed my pants!" I remember well Beverly's anxiety and depression when she didn't hear from Donald for many months. Eventually, he came home a changed man from his duty as a radio operator on flights over the "Hump' - the Himalayas - from India to China, one of the most hazardous duties because of turbulence, icing on the wings and the difficulty of getting the heavily laden planes over the mountains.
I've seen from a lifetime of witnessing wars that they take on a momentum of their own. One waits and one hopes.
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