Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Makin Dinner...

The Island of Makin was the first island in the South Pacific that was taken during World War II, though it’s usually been underplayed in the history books because it was taken in three days with minimal bloodshed, while another island taken at about the same time put up six days of bloody resistance.

The isle of Makin was taken by the 69th New York Regiment, the Fighting 69th, the “Irish Brigade” of the Civil War, even though they had all had some Irish in them.

Every year, the 69th have a dinner for veterans to get together, no matter what war they had fought in.

What I discovered was a world I had known of, intellectually, but it’s different once you see it up close. To see flags carried from the civil war by the 69th. To see five Congressional Medals of Honor side by side. To see a row of medals won by one man, from the Purple Heart to silver crosses, and easily half a dozen others I couldn’t even identify. To know that their were only 5 surviving Civil War recruiting posters left in existence, and that I was looking at one of them.

There was a painting of the Fighting 69th fighting at Fredericksburg against the 2nd Louisiana regiment. It was a battle that was literally hand to hand, where it got so bad that one of the sergeants from the 69th had grabbed the standard bearer from the 2nd Louisiana and dragged him into the ranks. The 69th had ignored their bayonets and used their guns as shillelaghs, clubbing the enemy with their weapons so often that the next day a General examined the ranks, and noted that men were unarmed. This was outrageous! An act of cowards! Then he was shown the pile of broken weapons that had been broken over the heads of men from the 2nd Louisiana.

Members from that same regiment went overseas with the 69th to Iraq. [Apparently, this wasn’t uncommon—members from the 11th Alabama had also faced the 69th during the civil war, and some had been transferred into the ranks of the 69th during WWI… there were a few brawls in that instance].

I met the army chaplain, Fr. Caine. He is actually known as “Killer Caine,” and by more than just the members of the regiment, but by even my father. You see, Fr. Caine had been in the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam, and during a particularly bad firefight, he promised that if he lived, he would become a priest. He is a man of his word.

When I was originally invited to the Makin dinner, I was told that I should keep away from any vegetarian inclinations for the evening, because there was only a few olives and some celery for decoration, and that was the only green I’d see that was edible. When I got there, I was also asked “Do you need to worry about your cholesterol?” With appetizers of Swedish meatballs, REAL sausages, pork chops and roast beef on toast for an entrée, crisp Patriot fries as a side dish [yes, they were called Patriot fries], followed by apple pie with a slice of cheese. Given the general impression I’ve gotten of army cooking, this might have been HEALTH FOOD at Makin. One vet of Operation Iraqi Freedom told me that they lose one Makin vet per year, and that yes, it probably was because of the dinner, but at least they die happy.

They had even had a bagpiper come in during the ceremony, during which point my knowledge of Irish rebel songs came in handy, earning me a whole new level of respect from those around me. Apparently, there were some for whom “Come out ye Black and Tans” is a popular ditty. They even had a raffle of an Enfield 1914 .30-caliber rifle, the model of WWI soldiers.

And there was their traditions. Captain James Mohr, the original commander, had a drink of Scotch and Vichy water. One day his men were sent out for the Vichy water, and came back with Champaign, because it was French and it bubbled. He tried it, he liked it, and it has remained the drink of the unit, even though it tastes something like gasoline. Tradition has it that the man who pours the mix gives a coin and the Champaign cork to someone, and they are friends for life—and he guaranteed that the recipient would never give it away because he was using Iraqi money. Tradition had it that the regiment drink was used for the toast.

At the end of the evening, there was a speech, and I will not attribute the quote without the man’s permission. He said that is was amazing to be in combat, and not amazing in a totally positive way. How it wasn’t like the westerns or movies where someone gets shot and falls down. Odds are more likely you are shown a body bag with 8 body parts, none of which match up, and you are supposed to ID the body from the pieces. But there is a camaraderie which comes from that. And he could not imagine how men could be in that for three and four years like the vets from WW2, and how he had had a whole new appreciation of these men. He praised one of his guys for figuring out where a mortar team was, and blowing them to Hell before getting off a second barrage.

You want to know what I didn’t hear? I didn’t hear that they didn’t have enough supplies. I never heard that this was an unjust war.

I heard duty, honor, country, thank God Gore was never president, that sort of thing.

I don’t know how to relay what went on properly. I'm not sure I can make most of you understand the sense one gets around these great men. They've fought, they've come damn close to death, and they are proud of serving this country. It’s…

Ah well, most of you are probably wondering what the point of this blog is, and I’m not sure how to give it to you. And to tell the truth, I didn’t start it with a point in mind.

These are good men. They are honorable men.

No honor is given them by throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers.

Or by trying to set fire to buildings.

Or by "fighting capitalism." (Via Conservative League)

Or by equating Hurricane Katrina with "genocide." (Via the Scriptorium)

Or by shrieking about the "Bush Regime" and trotting out that "9-11 was an inside job" banner

Or by rewriting what our soldiers say.

You support them by honoring them. By shaking their hands and thanking them.

You honor them by honoring THEM, not saying "we support the troops" when in fact you're serving your own personal agenda.

You honor THEM.

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