CAWTHONS CATHARSIS - Decoration Day, Dead Are Only Memories With Those Who Knew Them

By Jack Cawthon 2001

I have felt that my space here should have something other than the usual nonsense as this is a special time of year for reflection.

Bob Weaver with his usual excellent writing style has paid good tribute to Memorial Day, and I have pondered for some time what I might add to it.

Back in the country when I was a kid we never called it Memorial Day, but rather Decoration Day. It always fell on the 30th of May until the politicians began fiddling with our holidays to create three-day weekends. This year the official day fell on Monday, but Wednesday is May 30, so what I have to say may still be timely for some.

A little country cemetery a few miles from Lockney is the final resting place for my brother who was killed at the age of 22, a First Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. He never had a taste of combat as he was killed in a nighttime training flight over the swamps of Louisiana.

Each Decoration Day during my dad's days that were left after being shortened by that tragic event he carried the flag that had covered my brother's coffin, the one presented in military fashion by the officer who had accompanied the remains home, and raised it on the flagpole that he had installed by the grave site. There it flew proudly for the one day each year.

Times change. My mom and dad now lie beside my brother and the best I can do each year is to make sure a few artificial flowers-made in China, of course-are placed there along with a small flag which will remain through the year. It is indeed a small token for one who showed such promise, but it is a reminder for me that I did have an easier life through his ultimate sacrifice.

There is a granite monument at my brother's grave, not the standard military type, but one bought by the men who served with him. My dad was presented with their collected money for the purpose of placing a permanent grave marker.

There was money left over after he had bought the marker and he used the surplus to buy War Bonds for me. I still have one bought in 1943 that has my name spelled "Jackie" with the post office as Letter Gap. It stopped paying interest years ago, but I have held on to it as a reminder, a sort of additional memorial.

The past Saturday I attended the Tanner High School Alumni luncheon. I am not a graduate of Tanner High, the smallest of the five high schools that once existed in Gilmer County, although I have jokingly told some people that I plan to lie in my obituary and say that I am because I identify so easily with these fine people.

Hep Wright was talking to me and remarked that his brother was the first Gilmer County serviceman killed in World War II, as I well remember. Hep and I have talked about our common bond several times and he said with emotion that he would never forget his brother.

This year there is renewed interest in Pearl Harbor, which would be great if it were for patriotic reasons, but I'm afraid the hype is purely and simply for the promotion of a multi-million dollar movie, and not a very good movie if one accepts the reviews.

One positive result, however, has been the TV specials where survivors have described the actual event and the chaos and carnage that was burned into their memory.

Ironically, we can no longer in political correctness refer to those who perpetuated the sneak attack as "Japs," although headlines at the time screamed the word and it has always seemed harmless enough to me as a shortened form of Japanese, as contrasted to the derogatory "Kraut" for the German foe.

But in our world today we must guard every word as if language alone can cleanse the world. Politicians have ruined careers by uttering the wrong choice of word. Our enemies become our friends and we must tread lightly. Can you blame a sense of bitterness in some of our grizzled old vets?

But even Franklin Roosevelt's enemies honor and find no fault with his statement that December 7, 1941, will be "a day that will live in infamy."

No one has altered that statement to describe a sneak attack that took the lives of around 2,500 men and women and wounded, both physically and emotionally, thousands more.

I will not attend the movie "Pearl Harbor," because I think it is Hollywood's version of history. To our young, however, it will unfortunately serve as a documentary, and there are plans for sanitizing it for showing in Japan.

We wouldn't want to offend-and sacrifice movie revenue. Perhaps we will become the villains as we shoot down unarmed Japanese planes that were out only for a Sunday practice flight.

American soldiers who were slave laborers for some of the large Japanese companies during the war are now suing for their pain and suffering. They have been told by our own authorities that they have no case because of treaty agreements, but there are efforts in Congress to pave the way for their legal efforts. Let's hope these efforts are successful before the men die, as most of them are now in their 80s.

I guess when one looks back it can all seem so futile.

Our thousands of dead are only vivid memories that will die with those who personally knew them.

A new generation will go to the movies and feel that, gee, war is really exciting, almost like a giant video game.

And Hep Wright and I can only hope that our brothers died for more than to make the world safe for Japanese cars.