Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
Frankly, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't. Should I spend a third straight day of dozing the couch, dining on stale cookies and watching The Discovery Channel? Or traveling around the island to sacred sites, joining in remembrances of Hawaii's thousands of war dead?
The fact that dad coordinates veterans' programs for the state made the decision easier, too.
So last night I called him and asked, "What's up?" And this morning he picked me up at 7:15 a.m., and for the next twelve hours, I tagged along from ceremony to ceremony, hearing touching story after touching story, speech after speech, and immersing myself in the close-knit and slowly shrinking veterans community.
We went to the Arizona Memorial, then over to Kane`ohe to the State Veteran's Cemetery, then back to Pearl Harbor to the U.S.S. Missouri (my first visit to the ship on which World War II officially ended). I'm exhausted, but my mind is humming.
At first I wasn't sure how I'd take it all. I'd be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of all things military, and I guess I've always had the luxury to be cynical and irreverent about anything and everything.
But it didn't take long for me to drop my guard and just soak it all in. I'd frequently get lost in thought, or moved to tears. The whole day was solemn, I'd even say a little depressing, but definitely enriching.
I'm glad I did it.
One of the first tales I heard today is the one that still sticks with me the most. It was a letter, in fact, from a young Pearl Harbor serviceman from the East Coast writing back to his wife and four-month-old daughter.
His daughter was born while he was stationed here in Hawai`i, and his letter was full of love and pride and anticipation, looking forward to returning home in a few months to meet her for the first time. "Oh darling," he wrote again and again, beginning nearly every sentence that way.
He told of his longing, of the tediousness of his regular late-night watch, of how much he hoped to meet his little girl before she learned to walk. He was counting the days until his current tour was over. A letter like millions of others sent home by servicemen over the years.
This letter was dated December 3, 1941.
He would die less than a week later in the attack, likely before his short note even made it to the mainland. The letter was sent to the Arizona Memorial Association only this year, nearly sixty years later sent by the daughter who never met her dad, and knew him only by the letters his family had saved.
How far everyday life today seems from that time, when patriotism ran thick and threats to our ideals were so near we lined up to defend them, and die for them.
I think of how many families have been broken forever by war. And I think about Katie, and how blindly I take for granted that of all the ways I might be separated from her, it won't be through something as dramatic or... outdated as war.
I mean, what do I know of war? Desert Storm? "Platoon" and "Saving Private Ryan"? Am I lucky I don't "get it," or just naive?
All day I was processing numbers. How CNN reported that only 28 percent of Americans know exactly what Memorial Day is for anymore (besides picnics and pools). That fewer than 15 percent of Americans were alive during World War II, and less than half are old enough to even remember the Vietnam conflict. That in the next 12 months alone, at least 3,700 veterans will die, leaving the stories and fruits of their deeds in our hands.
Of all people, my brother is the only person my age I know who has any real understanding of historic wars, and that's only through what he's voraciously read in books. I'm simply ignorant. What will Katie know? Or her peers?
I'm a firm believer in the saying, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." And I'm scared.
To be honest, I'll always think our country spends too much on guns. When Sen. Daniel Inouye today said, "We prevent war by preparing for war," I couldn't resist a slight smirk. I'm not so much worried about the logistics and sheer physics of being prepared for battle (though perhaps I should be). It's the fading larger lessons of war, and the inherent weaknesses in human nature, that'll keep me up tonight.