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Archive for the ‘In Memoriam’ Category

Over the weekend, I barbecued–somewhat perilously–from inside my garage on a rainy afternoon in Central Florida. I spent the day eating FFA pork with a few close friends and, for the most part, avoiding the topic of war. With the weekend over, I started catching up on blogs to find that Paul Fussell had passed away. Since I first read The Great War and Modern Memory, Fussell has been a hero of mine–someone whose keen eye for literature and history has given us all a better understanding of culture made in war. One of the most compelling arguements in The Great War and Modern Memory is that the First World War gave rise–if not birth–to irony in mainstream Western culture. One can see that, at the very least, Fussell earned his irony in war after reading “My war: how I got irony in the war” (HT Small Wars Journal). He begins telling the story of how a boy, “fat and flabby, with feminine tits and a big behind,” chose ROTC and eventually the infantry as a means to avoid undressing in gym. However, now he lays bare everything:

That month away from the line helped me survive for four weeks more but it broke the rhythm and, never badly scared before, when I returned to the line early in March I found for the first time that I was terrified, unwilling to take the chances that before had seemed rather sporting. My month of safety had renewed my interest in survival, and I was psychologically and morally ill prepared to lead my platoon in the great Seventh Army attack of March 15, 1945. But lead it I did, or rather push it, staying as far in the rear as was barely decent. And before the day was over I had been severely rebuked by a sharp-eyed lieutenant-colonel who threatened court martial if I didn’t pull myself together. Before that day was over I was sprayed with the contents of a soldier’s torso when I was lying behind him and he knelt to fire at a machine gun holding us up: he was struck in the heart, and out of the holes in the back of his field jacket flew little clouds of tissue, blood, and powdered cloth. Near him another man raised himself to fire, but the machine gun caught him in the mouth, and as he fell he looked back at me with surprise, blood and teeth dribbling out onto the leaves. He was one to whom early on I had given the Silver Star for heroism, and he didn’t want to let me down.

Ultimately, it is through this pouring irony that Fussell comes to understand war–and through him I have come to understand it better. Fussell writes, “Irony describes the emotion, whatever it is, occasioned by perceiving some great gulf, half-comic, half-tragic, between what one expects and what one finds. It’s not quite ‘disillusion,’ but it’s adjacent to it.” I meditate on that irony now, remembering how I played with toy soldiers at the feet of my grandfather who, having fought at Pearl Harbor and Tarawa, was proud of his service but told all of his sons not to join the Marines–advice that has, for better and worse, been ignored now for two generations. Was it that he had seen what Marines are asked to do? Was it because he had visited that place “adjacent” to disillusion on some worthless atoll?  I can’t ask him now, but I don’t think his answer would be that different from Fussell’s.  It is, however, an irony that I can never fully understand.

Rest in peace.

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First and foremost, I would like to thank all those men and women who have served or are currently serving in the military. We would remiss not to also acknowledge the service of the Intelligence Community. It was not too long ago that the CIA put its 90th star on its Memorial Wall in honor of fellow Floridian Gregg Wenzel who died in the line of duty in Kenya. As a civilian, I do not feel like I have much to add to these tributes besides restate the moving sentiment of veterans like this one, which honors each and every member of the military, from the good folks at Blackfive.

My own small tribute has been not on this blog but in the classroom with my course “Narratives of War, 1865-Present.” Although the goal of the course is to expose students to a wide range of literature and film about war as well as issues confronting warfighters and their families, there has been an unexpected and perhaps greater significance to my class.  As the semester progresses, a growing number of students who have family or loved ones in the military have told me that the works we have read have given them an insight into their experiences and sacrifices. It is incredibly rewarding to hear a student remark that a book or film has given him or her a greater understanding of their father, mother, brother, sister, or other loved one.

Even then, it is hard not to feel somehow inadequate in the face of so many–including members of my own family–who have given so much in service of the United States of America.  For now, this is all I have to offer.

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Over the last few months, my dissertation research has kept me from blogging, but I wanted to make sure I took the time today to acknowledge those men and women who have died in the service of the United States of America. This year, there have been a number of remarkable tributes to these individuals, and I want to highlight two of them in particular.

The first is Map the Fallen, a Google Maps project developed by Sean Askay. A developer for Google Earth, Askay describes his work:

This Memorial Day I would like to share with you a personal project of mine that uses Google Earth to honor the more than 5,700 American and Coalition servicemen and women that have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories—you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial websites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died.

Screenshot of Map the Fallen

Screenshot of "Map the Fallen"

The second is They Have Names. The site’s mission is to “tell the individual stories of our Troops who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. We believe that Americans NEED to know about the lives of each and every fallen hero. Through this knowledge, they will cease to become mere numbers and start to become real people.” Their goal is to post one soldier a week until every American warfighter who has given his or her life in the line of duty has been acknowledged.

This week, They Have Names honored Army Specialist Holly J. McGeogh who, at the age of 19, died in 2004 as result of an IED attack. Her story is one of an adventurous little girl called to the U. S. Army. Her mother, Paula Zasadnym tells the story of little girl who was “quick, fearless, and got into everything”:

One day around the age of 2 1/2 or 3, she decided that one of the family’s Chinese fighting fish might make a tasty treat. In the minute or two that Paula turned to fold clothes in the living room, she managed to catch the fish from a 10-gallon tank and give it a quick taste test-she bit it in half and ate the back part. She then ran to her mother and, rubbing her tummy, let out a huge, “Mmmmmm.” Paula couldn’t believe it and called Poison Control (she joked that this was something she had to do often with Holly, and she knew the number by heart and even a few of the names of people working there). It turned out that the fins could be poisonous and after some ipecac syrup, Holly was ok.

SPC McGeogh demonstrated this same fearlessness serving in Iraq:

Holly was deployed on April 2, 2003 to Tikrit, Iraq at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. It would be about five or six months until they were able to establish proper restroom and shower facilities, but Holly never complained and even joked about it. She told her mom, “It’s no big deal, Mom. We all smell the same.” Her only complaint was that too many of the older, male soldiers were looking out for her and that she had too many fathers in Iraq. This was because Holly was always getting in trouble, trying to sneak in vehicles on raids and missions. She volunteered for everything and never wanted to be left out, even if it meant risking her own life.

I encourage you all to read the whole story. It is one of the many stories goes untold, because it strays from the cynical narratives that rear their ugly head even on Memorial Day to disparage and dishonor those who have been killed and injured on the behalf of a nation that scarcely recognizes their sacrifice.

Without qualification, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all those men and women of the Armed Services and Intelligence Community who have given everything in service of the United States–not just today, but everyday.

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