[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
I missed Newsweek too, this came from a friend, too bad it took so long for
this one to come to her senses. I'm sure her father would have been pleased
to debate the reasons for the Bill of Rights and why there are such strong
attacks upon them now.
"Ve get too soon oldt, und too late schmardt" (anonymous)
A Noble Farewell for An American Soldier
I was an antiwar protester; my father was a veteran loyal to the military. I
think I finally understand why.
By Joan Caraganis Jakobson NEWSWEEK July 9 issue —
Two days after my father died, as the visiting hours at the funeral home
ended and we were putting on our coats, there was one last visitor. He was a
stooped, solitary man who walked slowly to the open coffin and gazed down at
my father, lying in his military dress uniform. Suddenly the visitor stood up
straight and, still looking at his Army comrade, gave the brisk salute of the
spirited, young GI he must have been 55 years ago. Then he slowly lowered his
arm and became an old man once more, turning and shuffling out the door. His
gallant gesture has come to symbolize a profound shift in my feelings toward
the United States military.
My father was a retired brigadier general, a World War II veteran of the
Battle of the Bulge and the march on Bastogne, who maintained an unfaltering
belief in the righteousness of the United States Army and any war it might
choose to fight, including Vietnam. I spent the late ’60s and early ’70s
marching in and organizing antiwar protests, including the Washington and New
York moratorium marches in 1969, and formed a women’s collective to raise
money for a bombed-out hospital in North Vietnam.
I believed that the armed forces were an instrument for senseless destruction
and imperialism. Visits home for family dinners meant arguments with my
father that ended with my storming away from the table. Though our conflicts
subsided as the war wound down, I couldn’t begin to solve the mystery of my
father’s boundless devotion to the Army. Until he died.
The day before his funeral, my husband, daughter, son and I were introduced
to six soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who had driven 400 miles to
serve as the honor guard. As they talked with us, I realized that, to those
men, my father was not simply an elderly war veteran they had never met, but
a member of their military brotherhood whose life and deeds were important. I
began to see the Army through my father’s eyes and to understand the
camaraderie and connection that sustained him. The following day at the
funeral service, the soldiers draped the American flag over the coffin and
accompanied it from the church to the cemetery. As we gathered at my father’s
grave site under a light December rain, four members of the honor guard stood
One soldier raised his rifle and fired three shots while the bugler played
taps. The flag was removed from the coffin and slowly and meticulously folded
into a triangular shape. After one soldier inserted the empty casings into
the flag’s angled pocket, the rest of the guard lined up in formation behind
the highest-ranking officer, who approached my teenage son. The officer,
holding the folded flag on his outstretched palms and looking straight at my
boy, said, “Please accept this flag on behalf of a grateful nation.”
And so it was, at the end, the United States Army that provided my family and
me with a noble conclusion to my father’s life. I began to realize that the
military traditions I had once considered unquestioningly rigid endure
because they serve a purpose. Every morning, as long as he was able, my
father raised the American flag on the pole outside his house, observed a
moment of silence, then stood at attention and saluted. I had always thought
this exercise sweetly eccentric but meaningless—now I envy the ritual that I,
as a civilian, will never know.
The impassioned arguments that my father and I had about the war in Southeast
Asia echoed across the country and across the generations. Thirty years
later, those tensions have been greatly eased, in part because of the passage
of time, but also because of the books and movies that have inspired a fresh
interest in World War II, a just war that may ultimately eclipse the anguish
of Vietnam in the nation’s collective memory. I doubt I’ll ever fully accept
military ideology, but I understand that the Army offered my father and
members of his generation a recognition of their commitment and courage. It
provided reassurance that they had contributed a significant service to their
country and a bond among soldiers that survives even death.
Soon after we got home from the funeral, my son called me into his room.
Unbuttoning his shirt, he said, “Mom, remember when Grandpa gave me his dog
tags? I kept them on a shelf with some of his medals but when you told me
he’d died, I put them on.” He paused, looking down at the metal tags hanging
from his neck. “He wore them all over Europe with General Patton, so I
thought I should wear them until the funeral was over. I think he would have
I think so, too. And I think he would have been gratified to learn that his
grandson’s generation, those who grew up after the glorious victories of
World War II and the raging divisiveness of the war in Vietnam, have achieved
the equanimity that allows them to wear dog tags with nothing but pride.
Jakobson lives in New York City © 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
TONY NEWCOMB- (SOA-570L) (SFA-450L) (AFIO-5746L) (POVA#168)
State Outreach Coordinator, VETERANS LEADERSHIP PROGRAM of ILLINOIS
"The only easy day was yesterday" - Special Ops - "You have never lived
have almost died. For those that have fought for it, life has a special
protected will never know."