Saturday, June 05, 2010

Remembrances for a Memorial Day 2010

With his back stiff against the dry adobe wall, Papi Conpelo lowered his tired body to the earth. He raised his exhausted knees to his chest, sat and rested. His eyes steadied into a faraway stare. Shimmering mirages caused by the day's heat still hung over the deserted roads but even the mirages and their effects were beginning to relax and dissipate. "Well mi hijo, words are powerful things." he offered to the curious lad dropping down beside him, "Some people use them to heal long-standing wars, wars of ideas, wars of money and power, wars whose reasons for being have long died yet the wars continue. That's not easy, but when words heal they bring others together. Those people who do this, they know the way of being human. They serve a great good. However, some people use words to divide in an effort to serve ideologies blurred by time. They have lost touch with the true origin of their beliefs, and to survive they invent a continuing string of reasons to keep the ideology alive. They think they know, but maybe they're just guessing. Maybe it's because they have win or control or just mess with people. Maybe it's because they feel alone and this cures to their loneliness for a while. Maybe they are just lost. And some people," he paused and sighed, "- well some people don't use words at all. They are used by the words of others. Que triste."
(excerpt from the Life and Times of Papi Conpelo)

May 31, 2010 @ 6 a. m. PDT. I wake at sunrise, the sky's light slowly changing. It is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who served and who now are gone. I worked in my yard yesterday, beginning to plant seed for a new lawn needed to cover barren ground out back. This morning I will continue a short while. I decide this planting will be my morning meditation.

One hour later. Midst my task - digging earth, scattering fertilizer and seed - I hear the bell-in-tower-across-town as it tolls "seven". Palm trees, plum trees, citrus trees and Japanese maple grace my yard. The leaves and fronds are green, yet as with people, shades differ. The sounding bell reminds me I have only a short time to do what I am here for before visiting the memorial park as I did one year ago today.

Memorialize - me·mo·ri·ize - verb [trans.]
Preserve the memory of; commemorate:
the novel memorialized their childhood summers.

I think of my dad.

Robert O. Giroux. Born September 21, 1921. Graduated Prescott High School. Then attended Tempe Normal School, now called Arizona State University. Dropped out to join the Army in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Enlisted as a horse soldier, but graduated Officer Candidate School (OCS) and entered into the Army of the U.S. as combat engineer assigned to the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. Saw combat in two very historic battles: Kasserine Pass in North Africa (1943) and the Casino in Italy (1944). Received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. Honorably and medically discharged. Rehabilitated and learned to walk again. Worked as disk jockey for KYCA Radio, Prescott. Met his sweetheart, Caroline, before shipping out to Africa and Europe for the fight. Married her on his return. Together they traded labor for rent of a chicken coop in Tucson. They cleaned out the chicken manure, rebuilt walls, scrubbed floors, and converted it into their first home.

May 28, 2010 - The Memorial Day weekend begins. I receive email from dear friend, a former colleague and decorated retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, who saw combat in SE Asia.

My friend, a patriotic American and perhaps feeling especially sensitive at time of the year, is passing this email long to me (and others) - email that someone has likewise passed along to him. The title: "I'LL BET YOU DIDN'T SEE THIS IN THE NEWSPAPER OR ON THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS." It contains the story is of Navy SEAL Mike Monsoor, a petty officer second class. Monsoor posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) for falling onto a grenade in Iraq, thus saving others from certain death. The words are powerfully stirring. Yet, as I read the details a feeling of skepticism swells inside of me. I begin to wonder and question the motivation behind the email's initial dispatch. No, I'm not questioning my friend. He is above reproach. Rather I am questioning whomever it was that initially sent this piece out. My wonder grows as I take in the last few lines from the originating author (whose name is nowhere to be found). The email ends with this:

"This should be front-page news! Instead of the garbage we listen to and see every day. Here's a good idea! Since the mainstream media won't make this news then we choose to make it news by forwarding it. I am proud of all the branches of our military. If you are proud too, please pass this e-mail on. If not, then delete this e-mail. But rest assured, that the fine men and women of our military will continue to serve and protect your freedom and right to do so! GOD BLESS AND KEEP OUR TROOPS SAFE."

My guilt button has been poked.

If delete this email, then the author's words imply that I am not proud of the military, and I'll feel like scum. "What's the deal here?" I wonder. The honorable men and women who I served with when I was in the Army were quiet types and did not have the need to lay this kind of trip on anyone. So I go back and read the email again -- this time more slowly. The specifics and buzzwords continue to grab my attention. They float to the surface like so much unnecessary stuff in a punchbowl.

The email says that Monsoor died September 29th, 2009, and was awarded the CMS "last week." It indicates that his military specialty and rank was "Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), Second Class". It says that his funeral was honored by the attendance of "Every Navy Seal - 45 to be exact - that Mike Monsoor saved that day." According to the email those forty-five men attended his funeral and removed their gold trident SEAL pins from their uniforms and slapped them hard onto the rosewood casket embedding each as the casket passed by. The email takes a step further and includes a picture of a trident-covered coffin. It further declared, "It was said, that you could hear each of the 45 slaps from across the cemetery! By the time the rosewood casket reached the grave site, it looked as though it had a gold inlay from the 45 trident pins that lined the top!"

My skepticism gets the better of me and I do some research which produces the following:
  • Yes, Monsoor gave his life, but it was September 26, 2006 (not 2009 as the email declared).
  • Yes, Monsoor was a Petty Officer, Second Class - but not EOD.
  • Yes, Monsoor's action saved the lives of his fellow SEALS by falling on a grenade, but the number he saved was three, not forty-five.
  • On April 8, 2008, Monsoor was posthumously awarded the CMH - not "last week."
  • The coffin pictured in the email is actually believed to be that of Navy SEAL James Suh who died in Afghanistan in 2005.

So I craft a message back to my old colleague and friend. Time to inform him of the above and ask if he has any idea why someone would distribute such an email to us (him and me and others) with the need to change the story and fill it with inaccuracies and embellishments. Mike Monsoor certainly should be honored. Anyone who falls on a grenade or takes a bullet for his or her fellow human being is a hero. If, however, someone deliberately used Mike Monsoor's story & death, and monkey-ed with it, then that person has dishonored Monsoor and made mockery of all those who have served. That person has likewise dishonored those who have fathered and mothered, brother-ed and sister-ed, uncle-ed and aunt-ed and cousin-ed those who for generations have worn uniforms here and around the world.

I conclude my note back to my friend with:

This weekend and on Memorial Day I'm remembering you and those who gave their lives, and am wishing you and all of your comrades (and mine), living and passed, all the best and thanking you for the great service you gave to our country and to me and my children and grandchildren. When I swore in July 1, 1968, I thought that I would be fighting in a war. But I never had to step into combat or harms way. We both know that for this I am fortunate. Thank you for what you gave.

If I have made any mistakes in my research then I accept responsibility for that, and I'll do a better job next time, and I sincerely apologize. If you feel it is worth passing my message back up the same chain through whoever passed it on to you so it reaches its source and then that source can know that someone is watching - and then stand corrected, then please do. I wish people would stop using the death of our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen/women, marines, coastguardsmen, etc., to create divisiveness in our country by inaccurately implying certain people are not respectful of our military men and women, or the notion that we do in fact need a strong military to keep our country and our people safe from those who wish us ill.

May 31, 2010. It is now 11:45a.m. PDT. I walk away from the cemetery overlooking Petaluma. This year's Memorial Day services are complete. Around me stand a few hundred people: moms and dads, grandparents and kids, brothers and sisters, old friends and comrades and once-upon-a-time neighbors. Different races, different religions, different ages - every color of skin. The Stars and Stripes is not the only flag adorning the sky. Wow! Flowers are laid. Taps is played. I ask myself what have we learned -really? As the few hundred of us there begin our walks home Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" fills the air.

Memorial - me·mo·ri·al - noun
1 something, esp. a structure, established to remind people of a person or event
· [as adj.] intended to commemorate someone or something:
2 chiefly historical a statement of facts, esp. as the basis of a petition

Memories of my father return.
My thought-byte obituary of my father continues.

- - - married his sweetheart, Caroline. Together they moved into a run-down chicken coop in Tucson, cleaned it out and made it their home. He went back to college and graduated the University of Arizona's school of mines. Worked decades as a mining engineer - mostly for Kennecott Copper Company's in the Ray Mine. Probable best Army buddy: a soldier named Mike Bellinski (sic). Probably best civilian buddies: two mine employees, Wally Taylor and Melvin Hawman. His four favorite songs: (1) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, (2) Deep Purple, (3) Show Me The Way To Go Home,(4) Old Soldiers Never Die They Just Fade Away. Succumbed and died October 15, 1981 to injuries sustained in combat thirty-seven years earlier, injuries that included massive scarring - some of which were magnified by pre-existing conditions sustained during childhood. None of his scars could be physically seen, yet all of his scars were felt and observed.

May 31, 2010. 3:45pm. I finish a meeting and conversation with my friend and long-time Petaluma resident, Randy Cheek. I'm sitting alone at Peet's Coffee shop. I pick up a newspaper, open it and read a story that has unfolded this past month regarding two individuals running for the US Senate. If elected each will have a strong voice regarding how our nation's treasure will be spent, and how young Americans will fare when sent into harms way. These office seekers are from opposing political parties. Over the past few days both of these men have had to find ways to excuse remarks they have made regarding their individual military service. One, a Democrat, said that he served in Viet Nam. Fact - he did not. The other, a Republican, said he once received a specific prestigious military award. Fact - he did not. Each uses or implies the words "I misspoke" as his excuse.

Question. Why did they embellish their record with these untruths?

These two guys lied. They would be better served, and so would we, if they would just fess up and use exact language on themselves; then drop out of their respective Senate races, and save us the future bother, time, energy and money.

Remember this: we are all subject to influence of words.
What words influence you? Who speaks or once spoke them? For the sake of what purpose were these words spoken, honestly?
How is that influence benefiting you and others?
What is that influence costing you and others?
Who and what are you influencing by your words?
For how long and for the sake of what purpose?

Writing on his experiences as a lawyer

"I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large p[art of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby - not even money, certainly not my soul"
- Mohandas K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, p 134. (1927)

©Lance Giroux, May 2010

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