Saturday, November 28, 2009

#173 Veterans Day ... IV--Onwards and Backwards into Afghanistan

Yet another uncle of mine, by marriage--I had a bevy of good-looking aunts--was, like his father-in-law (yes) Corporal C.A. Edmunds, a veteran's veteran. Even more so. First of all, no mere Gumpish wound to the buttocks for Uncle Frank: during the Allies' last great squeeze that would stifle Nazi Germany and lead to V.E. Day, an exploding land-mine took off both of the infantryman's legs below the knee. What's more, after his state-side convalescence, the Veterans Administration its-very-self figured to put him on the payroll. Hey, a double-amputee war-vet with great spirit and an ingratiating personality (he had one) = perfect P.R. He worked with the V.A. till retirement, which he and my aunt are still enjoying in Florida, alive and well in their late-eighties. Talk about a survivor.

Uncle Frank got along well with or without his artificial limbs. Without was better. Not as much pain--pain that has never completely gone away. Whenever this particular war-hero uncle (among several on all sides of the family) took off his cumbersome prostheses and his no-heel-or-toe socks, we kids--especially this First Nephew--were allowed to cop a feel. Of his scarred and be-wrinkled stumps. After all, it was a cheap massage. And while we were always squirmifiably embarrassed, he seemed totally un-self-conscious about the whole thing. For me, at that young age, it was nothing less than exhilarating. In touchy-feeling the effects of a just-short-of-deadly land-mine, I was magically transported to the European Theater of the Second World War. Right down into the battleground of exploding meat and gristle. My WWI Grandfather Edmunds would TELL me bed-time stories of his battlefield escapades (literally: he was in a tactical retreat when he got the bullet to the bum)--my WWII Uncle Frank could SHOW. Just as well, because he never talked about it.

Getting around without prosthetic help, my uncle looked exactly like Specialist Andrew Soule', 25, pictured above, R&R-ing along the Salmon River in Idaho. An Afghan war-vet, he was blown up by a land-mine, too. (La plus ca change ... indeed.) It was by way of the Middle-East species of land-mine called an I.E.D. We've talked about them before (esp. DM #131). The device carried out its incendiary ambush beautifully, destroying a truck and effectively deleting at least one enemy soldier. To get Forrest Gump-ish once more, it may not have been the kind of "deactivation" that Specialist Soule' would have desired to mark the end of a military career--his cinematic counterpart, Vietnam-wise, was double-amputee "Lieutenant Dan," who would rather have been killed ... martyred heroically in the CAUSE. "Dulce et decorum est ..." again: Sweet and righteous it is ... to die for one's country. Gary Sinise's character in the movie descended into disillusionment and despair when he didn't. Only a Hollywood denoument would save him.

Problem is ... since WWII there has been no cause. No casus bellum to die for, or sacrifice body-parts over. My grandfather's wounded hind-quarters helped defeat the Kaiser; my uncle's lower-extremities helped pay for victory over the Nazis. Just wars. And these were veterans who were proud, and proudly welcomed home, after righteously defeating the aggressor nations on foreign soil. No such happy homecomings have been in store for American veterans ever since. But, please, nobody tell young Andrew (my second son's name) Soule' that he lost his legs for nothing. (more)

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