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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carl Schurz Meets Randy Newman

It's been a rainy April weekend here in New England, the Yankees and Red Sox are both home and trying to squeeze their games in between the raindrops has proven to be as much of a challenge as Javier Vasquez having an uneventful start, maybe even a little easier than that. We all feel we had a rough winter (not sure why, but the majority rules, so, me, too) and are looking forward to "Spring" practically willing the clouds to dissipate and the skies to turn blue. And when that doesn't happen, we are unhappy. That's human nature, I guess.

Eventually we forget both the cause of the unhappiness and then, hopefully, the unhappiness itself, and return to our lives already in progress. Memory is funny that way. I can recall all the words to the jingle in the Winston cigarette TV commercial (all brands used to advertise on TV and the theory was when that was halted, smoking would decrease. Yeah, addiction is a funny thing) but tend to lose my place when remembering the birth dates of my brothers and sisters (I got Adam's; everyone else's is sort of fuzzy).

But some dates, history, though not personal history, do stick. Today, in 1983 being one of them. Some scholars and terrorism experts (I know, what the phuck is a terrorism expert and how do you become one?) have suggested the attack on the Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on April 18, 1983, was an early engagement in what is proving to be a Hundred Years' War (or more) against terrorism.

Many in the Marine Amphibious Units who were part of a multi-national force that included Italian and French troops probably didn't know exactly where Beirut or Lebanon was-I have friends who have children who are/were in the Corps (not sure about the past tense, once a Marine always a Marine) and from the Marine Corps' beginnings, they have always been at the point on the horizon where the road and the sky collide. The President sends them and that's all they need.

April 18, 1983 changed all of that, at least outside the US military. For the Marines, it was, to that point in time, the largest single day loss of life since Vietnam. In a little more than six months and a week, it was to be overshadowed nearly four-fold by an act of heinous desperation that many forget the seeds of that deed were sown on this day. For those in uniform at the time around the world, it meant you eyed the guy idling at the corner light in the next car, the woman with the baby carriage, the boisterous soccer loonies getting on the streetcar, just a little longer and a little harder. As a nation, we continued the fitful and sometimes tortured debate on the role of history's most powerful democracy in shaping the world in which so many others lived. And while politicians and pundits pontificated, young men and women in their armed forces served, and died, without question and, sadly, often without answers.

Assigned to a unit in (West) Germany, I got used to German acquaintances explaining, or trying to, that the German Dream wasn't the same as the American Dream or the Russian Dream. I admit I found it hard to appreciate that not everyone wouldn't want twenty-four shopping malls and 7-11's on every corner selling Big Gulps. I never saw myself as a cop on a beat, policing the world and though not from the Show Me State, I subscribed to one of her most famous son's famous quotes, "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be set right."

As I see the 'old age' sign approach ever closer on the human highway, I spend more than a little thought on those of my children's generation who choose lives of service to others, be it as teachers, EMTs, soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines, who each has her/his own American Dream that they add, almost as a small square on a large quilt, to build a vast tapestry whose majesty and beauty adds so much to the entire world. And around them, even as they work and weave, nattering know-nothings try to tell all of us, and all of them, what their lives and sacrifices mean for a 'greater good' they can neither appreciate nor define.

A rain-soaked weekend in New England is a good thing with opportunity for thought and even attempted thoughtfulness. A town not from far from I live buried a young marine earlier this week, another casualty in a war that had its start before he was born and whose end cannot yet be seen. "Into every life, a little rain must fall; but it's not gonna rain forever. You can rise above--you can rise above it all. We will follow the flag forever."
-bill kenny

1 comment:

Adam Kenny said...

With all that has been in the press the past several years regarding current engagements I had forgotten about the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut (back in the day when Lebanon was the most dangerous place in the world to be when you were not from around there). Reading your piece this morning reminded me of where I was when I heard about it and everyone's reaction to it. I was a 16 year old high school student and some of those Marines who died in Beirut were not that much older than I was.