Driving Through Dixie, Part 5

Memorials to the Fallen of WW II, Korea and Viet Nam

 

Part 1. Across Miss., Ala., & Ga. to Atlanta

Part 5. Memorials for WW II, Korea and Viet Nam

Part 2. To Lynchburg & Appomattox Court House

Part 6. FDR Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and Corcoran

Part 3. General Lee’s Surrender Remembered

Part 7. Charleston and Fort Sumter

Part 4. Through Virginia to Arlington and D.C.

Part 8. Sweet Savannah & Dash Back to Memphis

 

Index to 62 Photos / Return to Nolan Travels Home Page / Page Updated 9-2-05

 

By Lewis Nolan

 

July 9, 2005, Saturday – In Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

 

We got even uneasier about Hurricane Dennis as we watched the news and Weather Channel on Casey’s enormous, flat screen television in his Arlington apartment. I checked the wire service reports out of the Gulf Coast
Lewis Nolan with son Casey near Memorial Bridge
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on his Dell laptop supplied with a high-speed Internet access connection. The news was not good. Gulf Shores, Ala., where we have a small condo on the beach, underwent a mandatory evacuation at 6 a.m. today.

 

The storm packs winds over 100 mph. It is headed for the same area where Hurricane Ivan caused so much devastation last September. Dennis is predicted to hit somewhere between Mobile and Destin, Fla. Our place is right in the middle of the projected target area. Today’s Washington Post, delivered to Casey’s front door, had a front page story predicting that Dennis’ fury would extend out 65 miles on either side.

 

It sure sounds like we are in for some more damage. We just hope the new roof on our condo building holds. The condo association president emailed all the owners yesterday that work underway to repair the front pool, elevator and other exterior improvements from Ivan’s wrath had been suspended pending the arrival of Dennis. Ivan had delivered a storm surge 9-to-11 feet high. Wind-driven waves of that height and more sloshed back and forth over the beachfront and our development for several days. There was extensive damage to Gulf Village and a great many more condo developments and beach homes. Some had been totally washed away. Our cinderblock building had withstood the battering pretty well. Nonetheless, it had taken us and several crews of construction contractors and subcontractors until late June to get the roof repaired and the interior of our condo renovated and refurnished.

 

The fact that Dennis is packing the same punch as Ivan has everybody with coastal property extremely worried. There is nothing we can do but watch the news reports and wait. Maybe we’ll get lucky. We have before, when approaching hurricanes veered into less populated areas or fizzled out while still at sea.

 

Casey was up early on this Saturday and went to a nearby pool to swim laps. He trains year round to compete in triathlons. He is thinking about competing in yet another swimming event from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco’s Bay to the mainland. His growing responsibilities at work are cutting deeply into his time for the rigorous training that he has been enjoying for several years.

 

While Betty opted for some more snooze time, I went to his apartment building’s excellent fitness center. I did three miles on a stationary bike while reading several chapters of W.E.B. Griffin’s latest novel,  “Final Justice.” It is part of a pretty good police series the Alabama author has written but I thought this story fizzled at the very end. Hurricane Dennis should do as well.

 

After lunch, Casey drove Betty and me in his Ford Explorer from Arlington to Washington. His route took us across the 14th
Betty and Casey by Lincoln Memorial
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Street Bridge over the Potomac and to the Mall. He said he had never seen the river so brown, the result of torrential rains shipped north by Tropical Storm Cindy earlier this week. (If you liked Cindy’s gifts, you’ll love her cousin Dennis when he arrives). I didn’t remember the Potomac looking so nasty either.

 

I learned to sail a small boat on the broad, usually beautiful Potomac River while stationed at Quantico Marine Corps Base up the river nearly 40 years ago. On this day, I was reminded of the orange-brown clay suspension that never clears at Arkabutla Reservoir south of Memphis, where Betty and I raced a Lightning one-design sloop before Casey was born.

 

It was a hot and sunny day and the Potomac was dotted with small logs and large branches that bobbed with the current as they moved past the Mall’s broad expanses of neatly mowed lawns and trimmed shrubs. After circling around the mall streets looking for a parking spot for maybe 20 minutes, Casey drew a “bravo” from me when he expertly pulled his SUV in a small space I wouldn’t have dared. It was a few yards from the river’s bank and in the shade of several willows, cherry and other trees.

 

The three of us walked by a memorial to a man none of us had heard of downstream a few hundred yards from the Memorial Bridge that connects to Arlington Cemetery. We were in the vicinity of the Lincoln Memorial. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic was heavy despite the fear of a terrorist bombing inspired by the bombings in London a few days ago.  The Mall stretches from the Capitol - where Congress does its business that is often pre-conducted at swanky dinners and receptions hosted by an army of lobbyists and other influence peddlers - to the Lincoln Memorial. In the middle of the Mall are the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool. Along the sides of the Mall are several of the finest art museums in the world and the piece de resistance, the incomparable Smithsonian Museum Complex. The Mall is one of the most visited spots in the world, frequented by locals, Americans from all parts of the country here on business or on vacation and world travelers.

 

We walked past two very attractive, young blonde women chattering in an unfamiliar language. I suggested that they probably from Sweden. Casey offered that they likely were from Russia, adding that DC gets a lot of tourists from the former USSR.

 

We walked by the Korean War Memorial, which was installed some time after Betty and I trooped the Mall four decades ago in search of free
Lewis & Casey by Korea Memorial
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entertainment. Like the better-known Viet Nam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial has a wall, albeit much smaller, that is made of polished black granite. It does not list the names of the fallen. The focus is on a spread-out cluster of soldiers in an infantry platoon. Each statue is larger than life and in full combat gear. The facial expressions and body postures on the aluminum-colored statues eloquently express the exhaustion and stress of armed combat. Many are wearing rain ponchos made of cast metal, suggesting the miserable weather conditions facing the troops in the trying conflict of the early 1950s. 

 

Our next stop was the Viet Nam Memorial, always a gut-wrenching experience for me. My best friend, Peter Lenhart Siller, is among the 55,000 fallen whose name is engraved on the shiny, black granite. We did a lot of our growing up together in the same swimming and tennis club in Sacramento, attended Sacramento State College (now Cal State U at Sacramento) for a couple of years and did a fair amount of body surfing and Scuba diving in Santa Cruz, Calif., where his family owned a vacation home. I recruited Pete into Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, where we both pushed the hell-raising envelope. I later transferred to the University of Mississippi (attracted by the beauty of Southern women, the thrill of SEC football and the lax admission standards). The next year, Pete transferred from Sac State to the University of Hawaii (attracted by big wave surfing).

 

We stayed in touch during visits home, once earning the unwelcome attention of police and rescue units and the ire of our fraternity brothers one Christmas when we “borrowed” the fraternity Navy surplus raft for a wild and wet ride down the flooding American River. We both ended up in the Marine Corps at about the same time, Pete by choosing to follow in his father’s footsteps and me forced into an enlistment by an out-of-patience draft board. I ended up a corporal and editor of the Quantico base newspaper and got out as soon as I possibly could.

 

Pete loved the Marines and ended up as a lieutenant leading an infantry platoon in combat during the worst of the Viet Nam war. He was
Lewis' reflection by Pete's name
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killed in early 1968 by Viet Cong machine gun fire and was later entombed in his dress blues uniform in our hometown of Sacramento. It’s always an emotional moment for me when I visit his crypt at East Lawn Cemetery (where my mother and sister-in-law are buried) or see his name engraved in Section 35, Row 41 of the Viet Nam Memorial. How so very sad to reflect on the loss of Pete’s and 55,000 other American lives in that stupid war. Those way-too-early deaths prevented many of the best young men of a generation from enjoying so many of life’s pleasures that I and so many others count so important – long marriages, happy children, successful careers and friends of many years standing. I miss Pete a lot.

 

Standing before the wall, I angrily contemplated the waste and sacrifice of so many lives in that totally useless war. I believe America and our troops are in a very similar situation in Iraq today. I believe that this war, like Viet Nam, is driven more by political egos than by national interest.

 

What is distressingly different today are the different demographic dynamics in the American military. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, young men representing every strata and segment of society carried the burden of Viet Nam. Because of the draft and the now-quaint idea of Universal Military Service, the costs of that war – loss of life, loss of limbs and loss of precious time normally spent on starting family and career – touched every economic group, including most neighborhoods if not families.

 

But today, the All Volunteer force means the biggest burden of blood is carried by the sons (and to some extent daughters) of blue collar and rural families and others low on the economic opportunity ladder. Of course I’m prayerfully thankful that our son is safely in civilian life and far from that hellhole of Iraq. Nonetheless, I find it unsettling that not a single one of his private school classmates or pals from the engineering school at the University of Virginia chose to enter military service.

 

Are we at a stage in America’s history like the Romans were when they “outsourced” their military legions to the provinces and let the forces they conquered do the fighting for them? It is a troubling question and one that also bothers some of my buddies (especially those who served), despite their personal politics.

 

Iraq 1 (Bush Senior) and Iraq 2 (Bush Junior) are the first true wars in America’s history where the affluent and well educated were allowed to sit out in their country clubs and cushy corporate offices back in the States. In contrast, among the enlisted guys I served with were the No. 1 graduate of Harvard Law School (who grew up in rural Oklahoma) and the scion of a vast meatpacking fortune in Chicago. That said, I must add that the officers and NCOs gave a certain deference to those two guys the rest of us didn’t get.

 

I find it ironic that so many of the flag-waving, red staters who put the patrician Bushes into the White House are the ones shouldering what is statistically the biggest loss of sons. It is also ironic that the wealth of the tycoons (Enron execs were the No. One source of campaign
Pete (left) & Lewis c. 1963
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contributions to Bush 2) has been vastly diminished by a sick stock market that has failed to reach the lofty levels of prosperity that broadened the middle and upper middle class so much under President Clinton (who dodged the draft) and Vice President Gore (who served in Vietnam). Again in contrast, Bush sat out Vietnam by missing National Guard meetings. His choice as Vice President, Cheney, “had other priorities” and avoided military service altogether by amassing one of the largest piles of draft deferments of that period. 

 

I wonder how stiff backed Bush, Cheney and the overwhelming majority of Members of Congress with no personal or family affiliations with the Armed Forces would be over “the mission” if some of their own children were serving in harm’s way. As I write this (on Aug. 4, 2005), I am among what I hope are millions of Americans who are grieving for 14 Marines from a suburban community of Cleveland, Ohio who were killed in the last three days in Iraq. Those deaths - in a poorly armored landing vehicle that was hit by a buried bomb - brings the butcher’s bill to more than 1,800. 

 

It wasn’t this way during World War II, when what newsman Tom Brokaw labeled in his book  “The Greatest Generation” went to war with a will and a clearly understood purpose. Everybody – rich, poor, uneducated and highly educated alike – took up arms.

 

Betty and I were most impressed with the recently completed World War II Memorial. The newest Mall structure is magnificent and inspiring. It conveys heroism, solemnity and great beauty. It opened in 2004 (a half century after Germany and Japan capitulated). It is a long-overdue tribute to the 16 million Americans who served in our Armed Forces and the 400,000 who died between Dec. 7, 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Aug. 14, 1945, when Japan finally surrendered following the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Worldwide death toll from the largest war in history was an estimated 50 million, with hundreds of millions of others left wounded in mind and body.

 

I am a child of WW II. I was born May 15, 1943, when the war was raging in Europe, in Asia and in the Pacific. My father for whom I am named, Lewis E. Nolan, M.D., was a pathologist assigned to the U.S. Army hospital at Ft. Sill, Okla. I was born in a civilian hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas, a quirk because my mother didn’t want her first-born to be an “Okie,” a term of derision widely used following the Dust Bowl immigrations that sent many of Oklahoma’s farmers out of the drought ravaged state to California.

 

One of my earliest memories is that of my father sticking pins in a map of Europe that showed the advance of American troops. He enjoyed the military and kept his commission as a reserve officer in the Army, the Army Air Corps and later the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a full colonel. Among my prized family history material is a stack of letters my father wrote his mother (my grandmother Bertha Orpha Miller Nolan of Cass Lake, Minn.) during the war. The letters expressed his knowledge about the stakes and military strategies of the day and his belief that he would soon ship out to a combat zone.  He never did see any combat but held in high esteem those who had. Later in his career he was a staff pathologist in two Veterans Administration Hospitals; his brother, Donald E. Nolan, M.D., spent most of his career as administrator of the big VA hospital in Seattle. 

 

After the war ended, my father was released from active duty. We lived for a time in Columbia, S.C. (where my brother Pat was born); in Monroe, La.; in Fairmont, W.Va.; and then moved to Sacramento, Calif., in 1949
World War II Memorial on Mall
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when I was 6 years old. My youngest brother, Bill, was born in Sacramento. I recall accompanying our father to either Mather AFB or McLellan AFB near Sacramento, where he would attend meetings and make purchases at the Base Exchange. Most of the toys he gave me and my brothers were Army surplus items. We and other neighborhood boys were well equipped for our play battles. Many of the comic books I grew up reading were based on WWII. Later, as geopolitics changed the villains shifted from cartoon caricatures of evil Nazis and cruel Japs to buck-teethed Chicoms and bayonet-brandishing North Koreans.

 

My father had his own souvenirs of World War II, possibly obtained by some of the veterans he treated. I remember some artillery shells used as ashtrays in our home, a confiscated Japanese rifle displayed in a hallway, his medals and uniforms plus any number of ammo belts, canteens and other military gear he gave me and my brothers.

 

I’m not sure that anyone not of my parents’ generation can fully understand just how engaged the American citizenry were in World War II. Brocaw’s excellent book does give an insight, but I think it probably falls as short of reality as Plato’s parable about understanding the world by watching shadows on a cave wall.

 

The depth of feelings of revulsion and hatred toward Japanese my mother carried for many years came to the surface when I brought home a Japanese-American classmate from junior high after school one day in Sacramento. She exploded in anger after he left and ordered me to never again bring any Japanese into our home. She went into an emotional rant about the atrocities committed on American prisoners by the Japanese Army during the Bataan Death March.

 

She tuned me out when I tried to explain that my friend had been born to American citizens at the Tule Lake relocation camp in Northern California where his family and thousands of others were sent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He and other Japanese-Americans I grew up with had to overcome a lot of prejudice thrown at them in the 1940s and 1950s. Many of their parents worked as gardeners, whose scrimping and saving allowed the children to attend California’s finest colleges and enter the professions. My pal went on to become City Manager of Sacramento.

 

Most of the Japanese kids I went to junior and senior high school with in Sacramento had been born in the camps. They were all studious and rather serious minded, determined to succeed in careers not open to their parents. None I knew would talk much about the relocation camps or prejudice they faced. It was not until Sept. 11, 2001, that I ever had even an inkling of
Lewis and son Casey by Memorial
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understanding of how such a great injustice could be done on American citizens as that done to Japanese-Americans with the relocations. I think our nation is just one or two encores of 9/11 style terrorism away from instituting a form of “protection” measures that could penalize Islamic Americans like those of the 1940s did to Japanese Americans.

 

Despite the terrible unfairness of the relocation camps (which resulted in a form of reparations and official apologies from the President a generation later), an ennobling spirit of national defense and “we’re all in it together” prevailed in America during the war years. The citizens of London who withstood the Nazi air attacks by taking refuge in the subways and the citizens of Moscow who pushed back the Nazi panzers also came together in ways not seen before.

 

But it was in America that World War II fundamentally transformed society. Quite simply, it brought out the best of a people. I’m among those who think the unanimity of purpose has never been seen in our country on that scale, before and since.

 

A brochure available at the WWII Memorial says the memorial  “celebrates a generation of Americans who emerged from the Depression to fight and win the most devastating war in world history. Americans and their allies triumphed over tyranny. Unprecedented unity at home saw the nation become the world’s breadbasket and industrial arsenal. In a spirit of sacrifice, Americans rationed at home and channeled the nation’s might to help restore freedom to millions. The World War II Memorial reminds future generations that we must sometimes sacrifice for causes greater than ourselves. . .”

 

The centerpiece of the memorial is a large pool of water surrounded by white granite walks and 50 starkly simple columns. Each column represents a state and is decorated by a bronze wreath that symbolizes the nation’s industrial and agriculture strength. Pavilions at opposite ends of the pool filled with its plunging fountains and sprays symbolize the war fought across two oceans – the Atlantic and the Pacific. Inscriptions on each pavilion mark key battles. A section of wall is decorated with 4,000 gold stars, representing the 400,000 Americans who were killed in battle.

 

The gold stars hearken back to the pain of a family’s notification that a son, a brother or a father had fallen. Many families voluntarily flew small flags in their windows that carried a blue star against a red and white backdrop. The blue star signified a son (or less frequently a daughter in those discriminatory days) in military service. The blue star was changed for a gold star by a great many families when their son was killed or died of combat injuries. This changing of the flags served as a primitive form of notification to the neighborhood and community. I recall my mother hated what she considered to be ostentatious displays of private grief. Her opinion evidently was not widely shared. Some states remember the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star mothers with highway designations.

 

Discreet signs in and around the memorial forbid eating, drinking, smoking or wading in the shrine of honor. Here and there mallard ducks paddle about in the fountain, providing a bit of levity in this solemn shrine to the fallen.

 

Associated with the WWII Memorial is a data base registry on the Internet, at www.wwiimemorial.com. It aims to list all the names of Americans who served in uniform or on the home front. I entered my father’s name and info into the database, one small way I hope to keep his memory alive.

 

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