SOLDIER AT ATTENTION ON THE BOARDWALK AT OCEAN CITY, MD, MEMORIAL DAY, 2010.
Faith Of Our Fathers
My father was born in 1920. He was a teenager in the Depression, and a young adult at the start of World War II. He was a skinny young man, to tell the truth. All of 5-foot-7, maybe 120 pounds, and one arm shorter than the other, believed to have been stunted by polio as an infant. He called it, “My bum arm.”
A CLOSER VIEW OF THE SOLDIER. HE IS A REAL LIVE MAN, STANDING IN THE SUN, WITH SKIN AND UNIFORM PAINTED GOLD.
My father’s name is Bernard John Hayden, Sr. He was drafted and went for the Army physical. Hundreds of young men lined up, buck naked, in an armory, and went from doctor to doctor around the floor. One doc made sure their heart was beating, another made sure they could see, and so on, like an assembly line. The nation was on wartime footing, and government in those days was efficient.
Last stop on the assembly line was the doctor who made the final decisions. He looked at the reports from the other docs, and looked my father up and down. It must have been painfully obvious that this young man with the bum arm was not promising soldier material.
The head doctor said to my father: “So what’ll it be? In or out?” He was letting the draftee make the decision.
Everyone was going into the Army, and my father didn’t want to be exempted from service.The one-word answer was “In,” and just that fast the choice was made.
In due time, my father was stationed at the Panama Canal. It was possibly the most strategic transportation target in the world. Perhaps surprisingly, the Germans and the Japanese never attacked. Probably they were otherwise occupied in Europe and the Pacific. But I like to think that my father and his friends, on guard in the tropical heat of the Canal Zone, prevented an enemy attack by their willingness to serve. They were America’s “Greatest Generation.”
I CALL THIS LADY IN SILVER “MS. LIBERTY.” SHE IS STANDING ON THE BOARDWALK, SOMETIMES GRACIOUSLY GIVING HER HAND TO PASSERS-BY.
At Holy Savior Church Saturday afternoon, the priest dispensed with his normal homily, but spoke for a few minutes about Memorial Day. We would not be free this weekend, the priest said, except for God and America’s veterans.
At the end of Mass, the priest asked all veterans present to stand and be recognized. I have to report that fewer than 20 percent of the congregation stood, and they were mostly older men and women. Times have changed, and in the America of 2010, military service is no longer a universal duty. I don’t know if that is a step forward or a step back, if the goal is peace.
Two widely quoted, relevant statements by great men:
“He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”
— Isaiah chapter 2; verse 4 (written about 742-735 B.C.)
“I am tired of fighting . . . Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
— Chief Joseph, Nez Perce Indians, Oct. 5, 1877, at Bears Paw, Montana
So many questions, blowin’ in the wind . . .
— John Hayden