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Memorial Day



Military service was not a strong tradition in my family, as it is in so many others, where service to country has been measured in generations. My father did not serve in World War II because he was deferred due to working in a war-related factory. His only brother, my uncle, did serve, as a medical aide to Gen. MacArthur in the Pacific theatre, where his specialty was combatting venereal disease! Among my male cousins in the far-off Draft days of the 1960s, several served in Vietnam, and to this day bear the psychological scars of returning home to taunts and spit—although not from me. I, myself, was rejected by the Draft Board. They never explained to me the reason/s why, leaving me to conjecture. Because they knew I was gay? Or something else? Anyhow, I didn’t know, at the time, what I would do were I to be drafted. Escape to Canada was an option; so was going into the Army. In retrospect, I think it would have been good for me to have served, although that, of course, probably would have landed me in Vietnam. At any rate, I respect and admire the men and women back then who chose, and, in these non-draft days, choose to serve their country, although I have to admit I don’t think of them as morally superior to their brothers and sisters who have not chosen to serve.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of my older cousin (through marriage) Don, who did serve in the Army. I was particularly close to him—he was my first hero-worship. While a graduate student at Harvard’s School of Architecture, Don worked on his thesis, an analysis of conditions among soldiers at Fort Devens, outside Boston. In the summer of 1962, I think it was, I spent a month helping him with various features of his study. Many years later, Don had by then served in the second administration of Gov. Jerry Brown here in California, and had started a company producing below-market-rate housing in San Francisco. He was on a plane heading to Croatia, in 1966, because he’d been invited by U.S. Commerce Secretary (under Bill Clinton) Ron Brown, to rebuild housing destroyed in those awful Serbian wars of the 1990s. The plane, tragically, plowed into a mountainside; all were killed. Don was permitted to be buried in the Presidio National [military] Cemetery, in San Francisco, through a special Act of Congress proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. From time to time, we visit his grave, high on a hill overlooking the beautiful Golden Gate, and we place little stones upon the headstone, in the ancient Jewish tradition.

I suppose it is due to the way I was raised that I respect the uniform, whether it be worn on soldiers, cops or firefighters. I do try to understand the point of view of those who view the uniform, and the men and women in it, as the enemy. Surely everybody has got to work towards reconciliation! But things are not helped by the attitude of the current president and his regime, who are hell-bent on appealing to anger and resentment, not on the things that bind us as Americans. Barack Obama tried that route, and did not do so well. I think History will praise him for his gentlemanly ways, and will condemn the current occupant of the White House as a catastrophic anomaly. I hope to live long enough to see a great majority of Americans unite in agreement that the 2016 election was an unqualified disaster, and I hope that the people who voted for Trump will have the scales fall from their eyes, and apologize to their children and grandchildren for the awful thing they did. But I don’t know that I will ever see that day.

Meanwhile, on this Memorial Day, I salute all the people who serve our country in uniform, and I pause to remember those service members who are no longer with us. Thank you for your protection and service!

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