memory-memorialize-memorial day…


Sir in WW 1

Originally uploaded by jayfherron

My grandfather ‘Sir’ was always a quiet man. I remember once being sent down to my aunts apartment when ‘Sir’ told my grandmother to “be quiet” (I believe the actual phrase was-“shut up”) because the times ‘Sir’ spoke were so rare. I learned later that it had been a few years since he had said anything to my grandmother-that was why ‘shut up’ was so special.
I remember ‘Sir’ when he spoke to me. He told me very quietly to be in the bed by a gawd awful time in the afternoon-this to be done on the next day,no explanation,just go to bed.
I remember feeling kind of hurt that following day. My ten year old mind thought the worse-this quiet man must have been upset with me…but it turned out to be one of the most better memories I have.
‘Sir’ was an iron worker. He built the red iron and riveted structures-most of his employ was in Washington DC,where my grandparents lived.
‘Sir’ was a part of building the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
That afternoon lingered into evening and ‘Sir’ came in and woke me (I suppose I went to sleep) and out we went to catch a car ( buses,street cars,and taxi’s were all referred to as ‘cars’ by my grandparents) to go into downtown.
We rode the car as far as where the monuments are-from there we walked up and sat on the lawn at the Washington Monument.
‘Sir’ had this brown sack with the driest hard boiled eggs ever made in it and we sat there and ate them mixed with salt and pepper from a pouch made from wax paper.
We didn’t talk,that is sort of the way it was. But a short time after it got dark we could see  flashing lights coming off a reflection from the buildings towering and blocking our view-but you knew they meant something was going on-so over towards the lights we went.
On reaching New York Avenue the sight was the best a kid my age could ever have. Coming down the street were dozens of police cars with the big red lights going and between the parade of squad cars was a giant truck pulling a rig that held this magnificent locomotive on it…it was so surreal seeing this rail road engine being pulled down the street.
We followed it-all the way to the Smithsonian building where ‘Sir’ was employed with the iron work.
The memory of the cranes that picked that engine off the rig and the excitement from it all has always influenced me.
After it was all over the quiet old man took me back to catch the car home.
I remember a few other times-most specific was after the union made him retire. He worked structural iron way into his 70’s. My family lived in West Virginia then-in Charleston,where ‘Sir’ took me each day into town to watch the iron work and other construction on a hotel there. I remember him telling me the strangest thing that an old man can tell a boy-that his retirement was going to kill him.
He did die-I was about 12.

As an adult my grandmother gave me this photograph of ‘Sir’…they called these guys ‘doe boys’. I often wondered if it had something to do with the innocence of the young soldiers of WW 1 as they were forced out of the trenches into sure death,just as a deer in the sights of the hunters rifle.
We called my grandmother ‘Wickie’.
I asked her once about his silence-why was he so quiet,why did he never speak to any of us-except in such brief moments?
Wickie said it had to do with the war-and gave me this photograph.

I never much gave WW 1 a particular amount of thought until a few years back viewing a movie about the war-a very famous film with Jimmy Cagney ….but dang if the title is not a part of my memory. It showed the way that war was-and made me interested in seeing others,and there are others.
As a kid-we were more in tuned that WW 2 was the real war…and it was,just as the Civil War was real and as the Spanish American War and the Viet Nam War….just as war in any place is real. But as a boy the war we played games about was WW 2.
I was shocked to see the things these men endured in the trenches in WW 1.

Today I have an understanding. I understand the reason I am the way I am is because I suffer from a condition known as ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ or PTSD.
Even today the big leaders of wars in the Pentagon are trying to convince anyone conceivable that PTSD does not exist.

I did not go to war…but would have-I was prepared to go to Viet Nam if that order came up.
But I was ‘wounded’ shamefully,never the less.
Yet learning this condition of PTSD has existed and troubled many who never saw any attention for thier injury says to me ‘Sir’ most certainly had to suffer.
The images of the battles I have seen from WW1 are frightening as to how the men battled by rushing the opposite side-knowing they could be shot down instantly,and so many were.
My childhood games did not know about his-even as we played the GI’s that sought out out the bad guy nazi’s,we never knew as boys the troubles that came home from those wars.
We played games.

I never can get through a veterans day or memorial day with out thinking about it.
As a teen the Viet Nam war was going on big and brought to us on our home TV’s.
I remember seeing the Buddhist monks burn themselves in protest-I remember seeing one death after another being flashed on the screen each night….the days dead. We were memorializing then,each day-it was the way it was.
I remember seeing the movements rise up in anger against the war-the protests from all around the world.

It always galls me….’Happy Memorial Day’….have a nice ‘holiday’….”come over to my house cause we are having a cook out’!!
It was bad enough having to go through these wars…and now have this newest one (over 4000 dead-and more amputations then any war since the Civil War!!) and folks celebrate the long weekend with a BBQ.
Makes sense?
I can’t get my head off of all the names engraved on the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington,or all the graves in Arlington-or in the National Cemeteries across the USA and even the graves in Normandy-and the graves of those lost in wars before.
That is Memorial Day-to our fallen.

5 Responses to “memory-memorialize-memorial day…”

  1. Carol Says:

    They were called dough boys.

  2. jayherron Says:

    yes I know-I meant it metaphorically. I just ain’t that good in writing sometimes.

  3. B.J. Says:

    One thing to remember is: although we may have had more amputations from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, there were a lot more deaths during the wars prior to the Persian Gulf War of 1991. In Normandy, France, there were 14,000 dying daily on the battlefield. It took us over 4 years to reach 4,000 dead from the Iraq War. Which is better–to be killed or maimed? If you look at this from a Christian perspective, you’d have to ask, “How many of those people who were killed on the battlefield were ready to meet Jesus?” At least those who survived; albeit with amputations, have a new chance to get to know Jesus. For some folks, it takes a tragedy for a person to get right with God. Chuck and I have stumbled upon and visited some WWI as well as WWII Memorials and Museums and Cemeteries here in Europe. We visited Patton’s grave in Luxembourg, a French WWI cemetery in Verdun, France, a War Memorial in Bastogne, Belgium. We’ve seen WWI and II memorials to both Allied and German forces here in Germany. As you know, I’m a War Veteran. Does it bug me to have people say “Happy Memorial Day” and have a cookout? We didn’t have a cookout for Memorial Day–we toured some WWII sites in Luxembourg and Begium. I also have an Uncle who was killed in the Vietnam War, but it doesn’t bother me to have someone say “Happy Memorial Day” and commemorate it with a barbecue. Why is that? It’s because I’m sworn to uphold freedom. In some countries, you can’t hold barbecues as freely as you can in Westernized societies like the US. Oh–guess what? I’m going back to the Middle East in September. I told our Superintendent I wanted Afghanistan or even Iraq again, and I wanted to go where I could carry a gun, but the powers that be have decided to send me off to Qatar instead. Oh well, I guess I can’t have fun all the time.

  4. Austin Says:

    Why did they call him Sir?
    I love your stories.
    It seems you come from a very long line of service men.

  5. jayherron Says:

    ….my only guess is-he was F.Herron Sr., and that got to be ‘Sir’…but,we all-and many others who knew him called him that,so all in all I ain’t too sure!
    Thanks-glad you’re still there!

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