Sixteen years ago I thought it would be a good idea to bring my son — the only grandchild — home from Colorado Springs to be raised near his grandparents and relatives. That part of my decision was good. The sad part about returning to my hometown after being gone for thirty-one (31) years, was that I found myself again entrapped by the oversold, eternal, ineffaceable, World War II; by the only world that my father really had known since being a teenager.
During the passing of these years, I have realized that much of my entire life has been defined, dictated — and distressed — by the War that served as a finishing school, as well as a continuing way of life, for my father’s generation. As a war baby, my life has been woven — entangled — with the fibers of memories, nightmares, Memorial Day parades, 21-gun salutes, war stories, mementoes, and heartbreaks — all from The Big One. I will never completely break the ties that bind me to FDR’s vile use of my father as a pawn in that worldwide chess game, although I hope that just my recognition of the role it has played, and still plays, in my life will remove a few knots.
I find the process of healing from this “war baby” syndrome to be especially slow, and I attribute that to the fact that every working day I must drive past the war memorials of my childhood; of my life. Every working day I must pass through the community where my great-grandparents homesteaded their century farm; where my grandparents worked triply hard while all three sons were serving in FDR’s war. When I had to sell that farm, too many of the war memorials came to reside with me here at my home: dog tags; duffle bag; German field telephone; photos of every size and type; maps of battles; induction paperwork; debarking papers; uniforms; symbols and insignias; newspaper articles written by my father; VFW coats, clocks, keepsakes.
I am knee-deep in personal mementoes; town-wide in war monuments; and feel too keenly for my father’s suffering, both during and following the War, to bring myself to just discard his things. Many of the items hold memories for me, as well. The German field telephone was the first phone that my family had to use, and then only after Dad and Grandfather strung telephone line the miles to our house. No handy Bell Telephone service trucks were available in those days.
When we emptied the farmhouse and the barn, I reminded my family to find “The Star” for I did not want it left behind or thrown away. Grandfather made the star during the War, adding a blue bulb for every local boy fighting overseas. Even after the War had ended (but, of course it has never really ended for many of us) it was hung on Grandpa and Grandma’s porch as a Christmas Star, as well as a memorial. We always looked for the star as we drove into the farmyard. Then I saw it as a symbol of the holiday, even though I knew its history; now I grieve that it had been crafted specifically to serve a local purpose during a global project. As bulbs burned out, few were replaced until now it glows barely at all, and that is probably a most appropriate outcome.
Every day I drive past the VFW hall that my father, uncles, and their friends founded, then built; where they have so generously invested their time in organizing fundraising events to aid the community; from which they appraised and evaluated most everything about them in relation to how it compared with, or related to, The War.
When my son was small, he referred to the VFW as “Grandpa’s Club.” When Dad passed away, David, although quite young, volunteered to work at the VFW. For many months he served breakfast to the public on Sunday mornings, hoping to fill the gaping hole left by the death of his Grandfather who had always been a mainstay of the group. In appreciation of his efforts and of his caring, the veterans awarded David with an honorary membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. That war memorial hangs over our piano.
I drive past the old opera house, now crumbling in disrepair, where my parents met and began their courtship following my father’s return from the War. My mother has her own memories from the War, as do others who stayed behind to tend the Homefront. Mother, while only a teenager, worked in the grocery store — which I pass twice a day, as well — to deal with ration cards that forced citizens to do without, so that the Games might continue.
Every day I drive past two of the cemeteries where my WW-II relatives rest, finally at peace after fifty-plus years of ghosts, nightmares, life-defining experiences and a collage of memories. Dad has been gone for five years now. Still it seems strange that he doesn’t stop in for coffee after placing flags at the cemetery nearest our home, in preparation for Memorial Day — that traditional day of war worship.
Yes, flags will be at the graves of each man and woman who “served our country in its time of need.” My father always phrased it that way. I held my tongue, even as my mind prodded me to cry out, “You were used as a pawn! A pawn in a gigantic worldly game of very powerful chess! You were a dispensable game piece, of limited value, to be pushed around the board within agreed upon parameters.” I never said it so bluntly, for the mere hint of such a discussion caused my father to take a most defensive stance. He had no choice but to protect himself. It would have destroyed him to admit that he had been used, and had then spent fifty years celebrating his own bondage and the violation of his personhood and the warping of his entire outlook and life.
I believe that I lack the stamina to attend the Memorial Day “celebrations” this year. I cannot bear to watch the parade down Main Street. I cannot watch another wreath being tossed into the river, to float on to the ocean, in memory of sailors who died at sea. It hurts too much to see the dwindling ranks of ageing servicemen, clothed in remnants of uniforms from fifty and more years past. I cannot bear to hear the sad bugle, nor its echo, following the guns fired in salute. Every day I drive past the War Memorial that my father helped to plan and bring to the community. His name is there — Max E. Sneary. I will avoid the ceremonies there this year, but I will do so with great sadness.
In addition to sadness, I feel much anger. I resent the fact that always more wars are being created and conducted, and I despise the State leaders who put our people in harm’s way in those 135 countries. I am angry that our young people are continually being seduced into believing the lies of the State — lies told so that the Games can go on. I wonder how long these State Games will continue, damaging not only the lives of our young people, but also the hearts, spirits, and memories of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They all — we all — deserve better than this from the United States of America.
May all of those who keep the Games alive, spend sleepless nights sharing the horror of my father’s dreams — dreams of nights spent in water-filled sleeping holes breathing through a bundle of twigs as a crude filter; thoughts of spaces crawling with bugs and vermin; memories of humans sleeping underground to prevent shrapnel from damaging the pawns before the Players could decide their next move. I have a powerful video of my father describing those war experiences to my history students. I believe that young people deserve the right to understand the true nature of war, and should be prepared to stand firm against the lies of the State.
Never hope, or expect, to hear the word “Checkmate.” Contrary to popular beliefs, and to State lies, winning is neither the purpose, nor the prearranged outcome, of these worldly chess games. Money. Power. Leverage. The stakes are high and citizens are well trained to overlook the truth while dutifully blaming the State’s fall guy. Merely games. A war concocted and conducted by the State is never a cause.
A cause is something honorable and right. The actions of Austrian Economists teaching “those who have ears to hear” of the ways that freedoms and rights will bloom and grow in Free Market environments is a cause — one worthy of sacrifice and support. The honorable, constitutionally supported decision of the Southern states to peacefully leave the collection of American states was a cause — although one that was cruelly and illegally aborted and distorted by Lincoln and his rewriters. The Revolution to free the Colonies from British dominion and establish our country, was a cause.
Wars, on the other hand, are devious courses of action; secretive plans purposely designed to rob citizens: of freedoms and rights; of production and financial rewards; of savings and investments; of sons and daughters; of peaceful lifetimes and restful sleep.
As my father left the theater after viewing Saving Private Ryan he stated, with much stress in his voice, “I could have gone to my grave without seeing that!” The film stirred the ghosts that had haunted him, and he died not long after that. He died sleeping fitfully and I’ll always wonder if he finally realized that he had been played for a fool and sacrificed for a rook.