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Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 16-17, 2013: Crowd-Sourced Veterans

[In honor of Veteran’s Day, this week’s series has focused on cultural and historical engagements with this important American community. This crowd-sourced post is drawn from the response and perspectives of fellow AmericanStudiers—please add your thoughts in comments!]
Ian Wilkins writes, “I agree that the best use of a time to remember and contemplate like that which Veteran's Day encourages us to do is to broaden out memory beyond the specifics of war itself, and to consider all of the far-reaching impacts into the lives of those who were involved in one way or another.
     My grandfather’s brother, Jack Wilkins, was an all-star multi-sport athlete from the Main South neighborhood of Worcester. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he and my grandfather signed up and shipped off immediately—into the marines and the navy, respectively. While my grandfather rode aboard a Navy fuel tanker, thankfully avoiding torpedoes and coming home safely, Jack was piloting fighters in the marines. When WWII was over, my grandfather came home to his wife. Eschewing the reported major-league baseball tryouts which had been scheduled before the war, Jack stayed on in the marines, and went to Korea a short time later.
     Less than a month into Korea, Jack’s plane was shot down. For the entire duration of the war, nobody in the family knew what had happened to him. In fact, he had been captured and was a POW. The way they finally became aware of this is that, when the war was over, there were several prisoners released. My family was watching the prisoners walk off the planes on television, and there was Jack, alive! It has become a piece of family history that is not often talked about, but the city of Worcester held a parade for his return.
     Jack moved very quickly to a warmer climate (Florida), never to return to New England. He did not like to talk about his experience; the little I know of it I learned from my grandmother.
     As interesting and impactful as this story is, it is but one of many. Jack’s experience was something that followed him for the rest of his life. My absolute favorite movie which explores the horrible things that can follow vets home in this way is
The Deer Hunter. Yes it is very long, and yes some of the stuff is absolutely crazy, but it always hits me in a very American way. Of course, there are so many great Vietnam movies which delve into the psychological toll, but the connections I feel to the America portrayed in The Deer Hunter—the small, industrial town and its inhabitants—makes it stand out for me.”
Rob Gosselin writes, “In the early 1980's I served under a United States Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergent. He did multiple combat tours in Vietnam. In his opinion, the only movie he ever saw that looked like what he experienced was Hamburger Hill (1987). It might be worth a look.”
Irene Martyniuk responds to Thursday’s WWI post, writing, “I gave a paper a few years ago about the Irish who chose to serve in the British Army in WWI. Ireland was neutral, even though it was still officially part of the British Empire, and those who held an Irish passport were exempt from the British draft, but many (more than the Irish now want to admit) chose to serve—usually for the money. This is a topic Sebastian Barry brilliantly explores in his fiction, about which I wrote in my paper. In doing research for that work, I was quite surprised to discover that in the Republic of Ireland, there are still no clear records as to how many Irish served in WWI (they still argue about ‘who is Irish’) and how many died, and the first official memorials honoring those who served and those who died were only erected in 2004 or so!”
Responding to the same post, Stephen Railton writes, “I wonder when the monuments will reflect the black contribution to America's various wars? or the native American ones? etc?” And then he links these questions to the NAACP film Birth of a Race (1918), which in one section “shows a black man and a white man, working together in a field and then marching together in same uniform off to war. I don't think I've seen it all, just that clip, and it doesn't look very impressive as a piece of cinema -- god knows how little money they had to make it. I'm not sure it was ever shown in many (any?) theaters either. But like those un-erected monuments, it is part of the story you're helping us recover this week.”
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? What would you add?

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