LIFE magazine: June 27, 1969 (part of why I am who I am)

I discovered this evening that entire magazines are part of Google’s massive digital library and I began looking for a particular issue of LIFE magazine. I wasn’t sure of the specific issue, only that it was from the summer of 1969 or 1970 and I knew that only because I knew that I had first looked at the magazine- in a crummy motel somewhere in western Pennsylvania or upper New York state where I had been involved in installing golf course irrigation systems during my sophomore and junior summers while in college.

So I found the magazine I wanted to find/was afraid I would find. It’s the June 27, 1969 issue of LIFE and in it were pictures of all the Americans killed in Vietnam during the week of May 28- June 3. The article was called “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam- One Week’s Toll.”

The article had made the news previous to its publication. Some government officials at the time had asked that it not be published, but there was an overwhelming response from the families of the dead soldiers that it should be published. In the history of the Vietnam War, the LIFE article is one of the factors credited with redirecting much of the remaining popular support of the war.

I carried it with me all day, having bought the magazine at a grocery store near the restaurant we ate lunch in each day. Washington, Pennsylvania: once I ‘found’ the magazine again today, I remembered exactly where I was at the time. On a $10 per diem, I was able to stay at a motel and eat out two meals a day. There were other workers at the motel, too, but I- fortunately, that day- was in a room by myself. We finished work at about 6 p.m., stopped for the obligatory (at the time) six pack of Rolling Rock (sweet green-glassed golden brew of the Susquahanna Valley), cleaned up and- usually- went somewhere together to eat. I opted this day to stay, drink beer, and look at the LIFE.

The article consists mainly of pictures of mostly very young men- 242 of them (two hundred and forty-two.) There is a name, a branch of service and rank, and the age and hometown of each man listed. One week’s toll: 11 pages, 20 names per page. I looked at the first row of pictures today and had exactly the same reaction I had almost 42 years ago and that I am having right now as I write and look at the pictures once more.

Here, by the way, is the link: http://books.google.com/books?id=pE8EAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&rview=1&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

I know now why I used to drink too much: I see and feel everything (EVERYTHING) through an exaggerated sense of recognition and understanding. Beauty or ugliness- doesn’t matter: my empathy is permanently switched on high and I will see every brush stroke of a beautiful painting and feel every tear of someone else’s hurt. Alcohol makes beauty and/or pain bearable. Odd? Yes, but there are plenty of others who know those feelings exactly. Hopefully, they’ve gotten some help. If not, call me. Really.

The beer, that evening, didn’t help very much. Row after row, page after page. As I looked at them today for the first time in so many years, I realized I could still remember well some of those faces. They had etched themselves in my deepest mind. They were synaptically sealed in my 19 year old brain.

Yeah, 19 years old. That’s how old I was and that’s how old soldier after soldier was that had been killed during that week in 1969. Row after row, page after page. Here’s page 26, row 3: Patrick Hagerty, 19, Army, Youngstown, Ohio; Albert Carledge III, 23, Marines, Dallas, Texas; James Drew, 20, Army, Kansas City, Missouri; Peter Borsay, 24, Army, Salt Lake City, Utah; Robert Yates, 18, Army, Hondo, Texas.

Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ was playing on the radio as I looked at the pages of pictures. It would become the commemorative soundtrack to the event of my mind exploding. Because that is what was happening. For whatever cognitive reasonings were coming together in my young mind, I’ve recognized that evening many times since as one of the pivotal ones of my life. That was the night I stopped (forever) believing my government knew best, was best, or acted best about anything they purported to know, be, or act upon. It was the first time I asked myself the question I had heard posed many times by others but had never fully asked on my own: “What the hell did these guys die for?” And I still don’t have an answer.

Later that Summer, there would be Woodstock. A month before Woodstock, Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon. Two days before that, Larry- a guy I’d grown up with at school, in Sunday School, and on various football teams, himself became a picture of a dead soldier: Larry Esterly, 20, Marines, Lisbon, Ohio.

Years later, I learned in counseling how to stop looking quite so deeply at everything, so that beauty, ugliness, or any of a hundred various sensory stimuli, would be unable to tattoo themselves quite so painfully on my emotions. I stopped drinking alcohol, too, 17 years ago. But those positive efforts were too late for the trauma that the images of those 224 sons, brothers, friends, boyfriends, uncles, cousins even young fathers had battered on my mind, and my soul.

I didn’t expect to ever see those pictures again, because years ago I had decided never to look too hard for them. But it was easy today, and I am glad to have seen them all again. I told Patrick, Albert, James, Peter, Robert, and..Larry, in conscious thought that transcends time and the universe, that each of them had helped, for awhile, to shape a nation into one that vehemently disagreed with its very wrong leaders.  I thanked them for their idealism, their enthusiasm, and their courage- a courage in which I had never been called upon to breathe, or live, or act. I apologized to them for minutes, days, even years that I’d wasted on the mundane, selfish, or idiotic- time that none of them had ever had a chance to experience.

And I thanked them for allowing me to remember them today, and maybe even honor them this way in a small way.

I hope others might take a look, too. And talk to them.

Small Town Ohio: High School Football, 1965

I’ve been doing some deep cleaning the last several days, and among the many things I uncovered was an envelope from my mother’s stuff which contained my high school football memorabilia. She saved stuff that I haven’t touched in over 45 years! There were pictures, newspaper articles, and individual score sheets on each week’s individual and team performances. There was a special award for my receiving the team’s Mayhem Axmurder Award for 1966- given to the “meanest and most effective” defensive player. I played tackle and I made a bunch of them that year.. I guess.

So I was the 1966 Mayhem Axmurderer of my high school football team. I got to keep the jersey which affirmed that. Yes, I know:

Good. Lord.

Among the (many, many) other papers were several prep sheets. These were write-ups about the coming game. They covered particular players from the other team, the kind of offense they ran, and included special plays which the coaches had put together to be used against that team. The cover page of the prep handout was a hand drawn cartoon and an initial pep talk written by the coaches. (Note: this was the days of blue mimeograph and I don’t think the coaches typed, so the prep sheet was handwritten, before it was run off on the mimeograph machine. Those of you who are my age will understand that I held these particular papers to my nose just nowto see if they still had that special mimeograph smell. They did not.)

Anyway, this particular prep sheet was about a team from Youngstown which we were playing that week- Youngstown North. Let me quote some of the coaches “motivational” comments:

“North has been knocked out 64 straight times, and plans to get off the canvas against us. Anyone who has been knocked out that many times is bound to have a weakness, which they do. On many occasions they have beat themselves through faulty execution and mistakes.”

Of course the same thing can be said of the Dallas Cowboys or any sports team, but this was 1965, so there is more.

(If you are easily offended, stop here. Really. I should tell you before we go on that Youngstown North was an almost-all African-American team, although at that time, we knew them as an all Negro team. And all of our team members were white. The “glass jaw knock out” you see in the motivational picture above reflects a very real stereotype of the time: even the toughest black guy had a glass jaw, some thought, and taught, and believed.)

Continuing:

“Gentlemen, there is no alternative in the game this week. We must WIN it. There is too much shame connected with losing it…Everyone knows why North is getting beat. They are predominately low intelligent colored people. They can’t learn many things, and what they do learn they have trouble executing it very well.

“There is no doubt about it, some of them have good muscular strength and speed..but we know that it takes another very important element- BRAINS. This is where we can get our advantage…

“We must beat them or be put to tremendous shame.”

The coach was right- even now, I still feel tremendous shame, though it’s not the kind of shame he thought it would be. I tell myself that it was 1965, and it is 45 years later. But I know how the institutional racism I grew up with has knocked at the door of my consciousness over the years. What bothers me are the times when it manifested itself through me and I wasn’t aware of it. I’m certain that has happened any number of times.

I’m not really angry at the coaches or other adults who passed along this system of exclusion to the following generation, as much as I pity them. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated often, the civil rights movement was (and still must be) about freeing all people of their wrapped-chain attitudes and the crippling weight of judgmentalism. I pity those handicapped by such lies and I feel sorry for myself and so many others who have never been able to completely shed the imaginary but inflicted veil stretched over our fields of vision.

And what of the young men of Youngstown North? Across years and space, across a different country and an always brand new culture, I can say “I’m sorry.” But those are just words- useless, pale, impotent, nice-sounding words if I do nothing to back them up.

So I’ve tried. I don’t think there’s an iota of any of this shit (and that’s what it is) in my own children. They were raised in the South where the flavors of racism were and are different than they were in ’65 Ohio, but that I detect nothing mean about their attitudes, exclusionary about their relationships, or narrow about their love for others, tells me that their mom and I did some things right in this regard.

But I’ve experienced the outward and visible kinds of racism in the last several years, after decades of not experiencing it. The use of the ‘n’ word, the telling of really awful race-based jokes, and the overt attempts to re-establish institutionally racist principles among some persons and groups in state and federal government, are things I thought I would never ever see again. Wow, I was wrong. I have been dumbfounded so many times recently that I have been and know I will have to continue to be a pastoral advocate against and in the face of this ..awfulness. This little essay is a tiny part of that effort; and the the best part of this whole story may be this:

The winner of the game between our small town high school and Youngstown North was..

Youngstown North!!

North broke their 64 game losing streak against us! We discovered there were were no “glass jaws” to be broken. They executed very well and made fewer mistakes than we did. And it looked to most of us, that North had strength, speed, AND brains.

I’ve looked back on the game for many years as one of the best things that could have happened to me as an individual, and I bet there are dozens of my teammates who would feel the same way. There were stereotypes shattered that cool October night and the shattering of stereotypes is always a good thing. I’m guessing- if such things can be quantified- that the sounds of joy on the bus home to Youngstown North that night far outweighed whatever “shame” we may have felt in our hometown locker room.

So I laugh over a genuine soreness in my soul for a time and a place that never should have been. But I also laugh because we were such asses. We really were.

by the afternoon’s early light..

Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods..” James Joyce, Ulysses

In the corner of the garage, forgotten under a tarp thrown down in 1996 to protect the boxes beneath from the rain edging its way under hail-damaged asphalt roof shakes, a box.

A box- a box filled once in the 1950s with oranges from “Sunny Florida” later sealed with now dried and flaking masking tape, forgotten..first under the tarp, before that next to a pile of lumber intended to build a never-built back porch, and before that because it was just a box that would get moved later, sometime. Maybe tomorrow.

Now, fifty years after the last orange was peeled and eaten, the move finally begins with the lifting of the tarp frozen by dust and time into the shape of a small foothill sloping gradually to the flat twelve inch high mesa of a box top. The tape cracks away in the confetti of long expired glue, and the lid is lifted.

Lifted.. and the air inside is drawn in a gentle vacuum from the cardboard tomb in which it has been sealed since Eisenhower was president, since Sputnik was a funny sounding word, since young men stifled nightmares of bodies floating in the waters off France and Bataan, since nobody had ever seen a color television. Before assassinations, long before the Bicentennial, long long before anyone knew what/who/when an Ayatollah was..

And inside, an envelope (brown, manila, creased, thick) labeled in pencil, “Edith Cross, City” with 55 cents worth of various blue and red postage stamps postmarked “Buy War Bonds, 1944.” Two little cardboard buttons around which, in a figure-8 twist, a string keeps the flap of the envelope closed, officially perhaps. Unwinding, the long-untouched string breaks, its work completed, and the envelope is gently torn just enough to lift the flap and inside..

A flag, trifolded redwhiteblue stars whitehemmed metalgrommets. The love of Edith’s life? 1944, D-Day? Edith’s father? A muddy trench in a Flanders field, sent by executors of an estate a half century ago to the younger generation for safekeeping?

The air of the envelope, older even than the air of the orange box, wafts through the stale air of the garage, over the canvas foothills, upwards toward a window rarely opened where the pale sunlight of an otherwise quiet summer afternoon spills across cardboard shadows onto an unmarked grave.

Oh, say can you see..?

David B.Weber, 2010

Decoration Day

graveyard-Church

It rained last night, so the road up to the church is muddy this morning.
Bro. Carter made it up, I see, so let’s give it a try.

Goddammit.
Now, Bill, it’s Sunday.
Shit.

Watch your feet when you get out.
I’m going over to have a cigarette. Be right there.

He walks a ways then kicks the mud off on the side of a tombstone:

Pfc. Walter Prescott
Arkansas Volunteers
1842-1864

Bill remembers standing there fifty years ago-
Has it really been that long?-
when Bro. Hubbard buried his Daddy
down by that magnolia tree that the kids climbed in
when they were little.
He remembered his Daddy dragging on Camels
in the kitchen after breakfast and coughing ‘til his face
was as red as the plum jelly smeared over toast on the
plate in front of him..

And then one day his Momma came to the schoolhouse
and said, C’mon, Daddy’s gone to be with Jesus
And Bill thought Jesus had finally come back the way
Bro. Hubbard shouted he would be coming back soon.
But Daddy was in the living room under a sheet
and men came and took him to the church
and then Momma cried
and then Momma cried
and then Bill ran to where he was standing now
beside Pfc. Walter Prescott.

Other cars had made it up the hill now and
pretty soon there was some feedback 
screeching through the windows of the church
which meant Bro. Carter’s wife was fixin to sing
and
I guess I better get up there in case Jesus comes today

Bill looked down at the magnolia tree one more time
as he ground his cigarette out and got mud on his shoe
again. Goddammit, anyway.

 

David B. Weber, 2006

The Jesus Holy Name Three-Point Baptist Church

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It smells of wood floor planks cut from the catalpa trees
nearby a hundred years ago.
That, and the aging paper
of hymnals, Bibles,
and the old theatre seats
which were added when the show hall in town
went out of business
right after the town got electricity in the 50s
and everybody started staying
at home to watch Milton Berle.

Sister Carol’s Gibson guitar is lying
up on top of the piano.
She knows three chords:
A, B, and G7
and forces all the hymns into various combinations of them
while she sings along in unknown chords of her own.
She is past 70 now,
but no one would think of asking her to retire
anymore than they would suggest
setting the pulpit on fire.

Bro. Carter drives in two Sundays each month from Dardanelle
to bring the message, but it is almost always the same:
a reading from John 3 ("Ye must be born again!"),
a story or two about persons who met with an untimely death
without having paid attention to John 3,
and a reading of the poem "Footprints",
whether it fits with the message or not,
which it rarely does.

 
Bro. Carter had presented the church with a
framed copy of the poem, in fact,
and it hangs right beside the wooden sign
in which white numbers on black squares
announce the attendance last week- 17-
and the amount of the collection- $58.97.

Years ago there was a coal stove
about halfway down the east side of the building
which someone would volunteer for a month at a time
to come early and get lit.
Since the early 60s there are
five strategically placed electric resistance heaters
around the room which hum metallically
through the service on winter days.

On the west side of the building there is a cemetery,
begun there back when the church was a log cabin.
Some of the Arkansas Volunteers were buried there
after their bodies were hauled down from Pennsylvania
wrapped in muslin and salt
after the War.
Down at the bottom of the cemetery are some magnolia trees
and azalea bushes (red) and a mimosa tree
that was planted there by a missionary from Japan
who had come through sometime in the 30s.

In a little while the familiar sounds of the wooden floorboards
will be heard as people make their way to
the seats their grandparents sat in.
It rained last night so there probably won’t be many here this morning
and someone will have to come up later in the week
and sweep the dried mud out.

Good Morning, Sister Brown, Bill with you this morning?
Oh, sure, he’s parking the car. He’ll be in shortly, I expect.
The rain was a real blessing, wasn’t it?
I swear, my garden was about to burn up!
Well, God is good.
Oh, He is, that’s a fact, it surely is.

 

by David B.Weber 2006

The Scapegoat..forgive us our sins

Leviticus 16:6 "Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. [a] 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat…
21 [The priest] is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

I grew up at a time when there was a universally identifiable American scapegoat. International Communism was always-increasingly ready and able to reach into our churches, our schools, and into all levels of local, state, and federal government, according to everyone from the head of the F.B.I, J.Edgar Hoover to the local president of the American Legion. Our fifth grade teacher told us how Communist teachers in Russia would tell their pupils to close their eyes and pray to God for candy. When they opened their eyes, of course, there was no candy.

The Russian teacher (ugly, old, and rough) would then challenge her school children to close their eyes and silently thank Premier Khrushchev for leading the great Soviet Socialist Republic. While the Communist children had their eyes shut, the Communist teacher would distribute Communist candy to each miniature Communist.

Those kinds of stories (and there were a legion of them!) embeded themselves in the cognitive topsoil of pre-pubescent children. I am 60 years old now and I still default to some of them. I still hear the word “Communist” and I really do think first of both Khrushchev and his lackey, the teacher with candy. (Who, we also knew with 10 year old sighs of disgust, hated both God and America!)

Later, we would learn (in college while the hysterical heat was dissipating but still ever-present) about Sen.McCarthy, the House on UnAmerican Activities, and Hollywood blacklists. Simultaneously, we watched our peers leaving to fight Communism’s newest evil manifestations in Vietnam. And Cambodia, and Laos, then all of Southeast Asia, then the worllllddddd!!!!

But, just as T.S.Eliot prophesized the whole world one day ending with a whimper, thus did Soviet Communism in fact end. Spread thin around the world, the Soviet war machine led the Republic into bankruptcy, Premier Gorbachev saved face through pretended negotiations with the Americans, and Humpty-Dumpty the Empty Communist Promise fell off the Berlin Wall with a splat.

Ding dong the witch is dead! Which old witch? The Communist witch- our enemy, our evil nemesis, our scapegoat!
It is upon scapegoats that a nation, a family, a political movement, or even a group of teenaged bullies, can project their own fears about themselves, their own disappointments over their lot in life, their personal or national cowardice, their jealousies, their lusts, and their insatiable greed. That goddam Soviet Union just wanted the iron rich mountains of Eastern Europe! That National Liberation Front only wanted to control the seaports and off shore oil drilling in South Vietnam! We simply wanted to spread democracy, religion, and love, sweet love.

We had had such a good scapegoat! We could all focus on that big Red, gluttonous, ill-dressed, rough-talking sword-dragging Soviet Empire that wanted our wealth, our women, and our way of life. But now they were no more.
In fact, now we were doing business with them! We were building churches there, going to college there, drinking their vodka here!!! Our scapegoat was gone! Our great historic means of ridding ourselves of guilt, shame, lust, and unnatural sexual thoughts, was gone!

What could we find to replace it? What could we possibly find that we could hate again with patriotic zeal and God-blessed righteousness? What would give us illusionary friendship with the high and mighty of our nation, companionship with the movers and shakers of Big Business, the attention of that cute brunette in the front office at work? Who could we pile our sins on, blame for all of our personal and national failures, and send into the wilderness to experience the fear, the loneliness, the powerlessness, the fear, the fear, the fear that we so feared…?

Who? What? Tell us..lead us..in the name of the God who looks like us, wants what we want, and will understand if throw out big chunks of Matthew and Luke for the time being and replace them with bigger portions of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the dark and disagreeable Amos. Who What will our new scapegoat be?

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil evilevilevil, whimpering cowardly posturing evil the kind of evil people not like us want to force down our throats just like the communists wanted to spill our precious bodily fluids on the battlefields of our morality..give us this day our daily bread that we have a right to, worked for, demand in the name of all that is holy for thine is the kingdom, our kingdom…

Amen

Quaker Meeting Has Begun

“The Quaker meeting I attended on Sunday has been gathering since 1657. Nowadays only a dozen or so people attend every Sunday, pretty modest compared to the tens of thousands that flock each weekend around the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and T.D. Jakes. These megapreachers’ megachurches boast live bands, jumbotrons, and theater-style seating. In this meetinghouse, the seats are hardwood pews and the most advanced technologies are the oil lamp and the wood-burning stove.” (from “Fluent in Silence” by Stephen Prothero, Killing the Buddha, 02/03/10)

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Prothero was writing here of a Quaker meeting he recently attended in Massachusetts. The contrast between his experience there in a spiritually quiet place in contrast to a humanly noisy place is an interesting difference to contemplate. Quiet is the primary million year mileau in which our DNA was formed and from which our particular and specific genetic codes all evolved. Noise- constant and electrically enhanced is a fairly recent development and I wonder what it is adding to our perceived levels of stress and environmental discord?

We are so insulated from absolute quiet that we are often uncomfortable without the television or an iSomething playing. I’ve even been told (not often, but with regularity and friendly emphasis) that there are those in church who don’t like the one minute of quiet I try to have during the primary prayer. (Many others have indeed told me they appreciate it.) A Quaker meeting will last about 90 minutes. Oftentimes, after about 45 or 50 minutes, someone will have something to say, as they filled move by the Spirit to say something. Or someone will pray, or someone will begin to sing. Or not.

Notice the “quiet” of the  Quaker meeting room’s physical nature above, too. It appears that the lighting is the only electrically driven enhancement to the room. And the pews aren’t padded. The meeting room which Prothero attended was warmed by a small woodstove in the center of the room, which was attended to several times during the hour he was there.

The desperate desire for quiet is the source of the one experience most of us have had with Quaker meetings:

Quaker meeting has begun.

No laughing, no talking,

no chewing bubble gum.

It’s a meeting that is introduced with a pleading demand, and it is a meeting which lasts (normally) all of 30 to 45 seconds, on average. But it’s a start, and the fact that the children’s ditty gets passed on from generation to generation is evidence that the desire for Quiet is in us- we need it. we seek it. we must (I think) have it. We must. 

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Mary Dyer, Quaker, being led to the gallows on Boston Common, June 1, 1660. She was hung for being a Quaker after the birth of her stillborn and deformed child confirmed for the Court and Church of the Massachusetts colony that she was an undesirable heretic.