Tuesday, November 11, 2008


AUTHORS NOTE: This is a repost from Last Veteran's Day, 11.11.07

Veterans Day is well noted, but perhaps not well remembered. The American Legion and the VFW hold ceremonies. As a Boy Scout, the Author attended a couple of these as a kid.

And there are the obligatory “Thank the Veterans” editorials and op-ed pieces. For public sector employees, it is often a paid holiday. But, in the Author’s opinion, it slides past the minds and memories of most Americans.

There appears to be at least one reason that Veterans Day passes with less notice than it did 30 years ago. The last two or three generations of Americans have not had to fight in great and massive wars such as the American Civil War and the two World Wars. This is not to minimize the sacrifices or heroism of veterans of these smaller wars. It is just to recognize that since fewer people served in Vietnam, Korea, or the Iraq wars, there are less Americans whose lives are entwined with those veterans.

No, the Author’s generation and the two that came later avoided all out mobilization and the horrendous losses that those wars entailed. Perhaps there will come a day when Veterans Day will be only an historical holiday, with no recent wars to remember.

Many readers know that the Author marks the deaths of local (Noble County, Indiana) soldiers with a short note and the poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by the World War I poet Wilfred Owen. World War I, as most readers know, was the “war to end all wars”. That appellation was a little premature.


But this Veterans Day the Author did something a bit different. He went to the movies. But not just any movie. It was the Oscar-winning film from 1946 “The Best Years of Our Lives.” The film was screened at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque as part of a Veterans Day Film Series. Peter and Kief,, owners of the Guild, deserve heartfelt thanks for selecting this film for a Veterans Day showing.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” is the story of three veterans returning from World War II and their struggles to adjust. And the struggle of their families and friends to adjust to them.

The film is frank, yet sometimes funny. It is also poignant, and to a remarkable extent for Hollywood in 1946, unflinching. The film introduces three returning veterans. Al is a middle-aged sergeant who has a family and a solid career as a banker. Fred is a captain, a bombardier, and a decorated war hero. But with no experience in anything but bomb dropping, he can only find menial work when he returns. Homer is a sailor who lost his hands in the war. In a sense, Homer is the best-adjusted. The Navy has trained him to use his artificial hands very effectively. But Homer has issues with the way that others relate to him. Especially his fiancé.

The film also follows the lives of the women and family members. And peripheral issues also arise. Post war inflation and shortages of goods. The black market. Economic slowdown. Radical isolationist politics. Infidelity on the homefront. And the specter of a coming nuclear war.

Lots of stuff, and the film runs nearly three hours. But it is among the best of films from the “returning veteran” genre. The American Film Institute ranks it 37th of the best 100 American films. The direction, acting, art direction and cinematography are stellar. It deserves frequent viewing and consideration.

The men and women of the World War II generation are passing into history. Most of the actors from “The Best Years of Our Lives” are dead. The memory of that generation is fading from the collective memory.

Let us never forget.



Dulce Et Decorum Est,

By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


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