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We're the Battling Bastards of Bataan,

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no uncles, no nephews,

no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,

And nobody gives a damn.

MAYBE singing caustic cadences is a way to keep the troops' spirits up. In our experience, the dirtier, the more the grunts like them, and the better for morale. No matter what the officers think. (The best officers pretend they don't hear, and drive on. Pick your battles, lieutenant.)

Then there are cadences like the ones sung by the Battling Bastards of Bataan. Songs of death and parachutes not opening and "one by one we start to die, so early in the morning." They can be haunting on an early morning march on a safe American fort or base. Imagine singing them during a fighting retreat.

That's what the Battle of Bataan was. For three months, Filipino and American troops held off the Japanese. Three months. With no hope of reinforcement, relief or supplies. The American Navy was at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. We couldn't get our boys out. Or get food in. Even the American president understood the situation. Although officially the White House might put out different thoughts in press releases.

After the Americans on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered on April 9, 1942, the Bataan Death March started. An untold number of books have documented the frequency of Japanese war crimes that would happen in the next few weeks. The motto of the 98th Field Artillery was "No pride of ancestry, no hope of posterity." Because they moved their pieces with mules. Get it? The mules had no hope of posterity, either. During a death march, you take your humor where you can find it. And the enlisted will always find it.

Today we recognize not just those who died in the Philippines during the Second World Catastrophe, but in all American conflicts.

AFTER great pain comes a three-day weekend. That's what somebody once said. Labor finally was recognized for what it has done for this country. All it took was for millions of people to be forced to work from sunup to almost sunup again for next to nothing--starting as children. Who could run a business by giving employees eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep, eight hours for what you please? That's no way to run a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

But the mere people had other plans. Labor won. And wins today, even if it's not as organized and top-heavy as it used to be. And a three-day weekend follows the great pain.

Thanksgiving gives many of us a four-day weekend. But lest we forget, first came the great pain that almost starved those newly arrived on these shores, or almost killed this nation in the crib, or divided it fourscore and seven years after that.

Today, another great pain has given many Americans this Monday off work. It's the American way. Give 'em a happy ending every time.

How American, how all-American, how America. Today we honor those who've given their lives to defend their country, those killed in action or behind where the action was supposed to be. How tell where the lines are in the battles we face today? The whole point of today's enemy is to get behind whatever lines might be out there, and kill anybody available. Then fade back into the crowd. Uniforms? The Geneva Convention? Those are for winners. Losers like today's enemy need to be a little more cunning. As P.J. O'Rourke once noted, losers hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings. Winners have air forces.

We pause today to remember those who are beyond it all now. And who were denied the best parts of life.

We remember the year that a former president named Dwight D. Eisenhower went back to the beaches at Normandy, on the 20th anniversary of D-Day. He stood at the wind-swept beach, at the time fully recovered from the marks left on it from artillery shells and tank traps, and thought about all the boys that jumped out of the LSTs into death's maw. They were cut down in their prime, he said, remembering. And he gave the order.

They hadn't come to take land. They hadn't come to spread an empire. They hadn't come as fortune hunters. They were doing their duty as their country tried to free other peoples. And they knew it. Making a corporal's monthly pay. Or a lieutenant's death benefit, sent back to mama.

Former president but always General Eisenhower said they hadn't been conquistadors, but conquerers they were. They might not have been idealists, but they fought for an ideal. And they were cut down, young. His thoughts would always be with the troops. Which is why they felt free to call him Ike.

This will be the first year some fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, will have come to stand at a still-fresh grave on Memorial Day, knowing it will not be their last time there, and wondering how they will bear it. The answer is simple: They cannot. But somehow do. That's the thing about mourning: It's impossible, yet done.

There is nothing we can do for the dead, but there is much we can do for the living. We can ask where our wounded and convalescent are, and how they are faring. We can see that they and their families are cared for.

As was written a long time ago, there is a time for war and a time for peace, a time to weep and a time to laugh. Those who died in service to their country wouldn't want the kids to sit through a wake for each of them all over again. They'd want the kids to go to the water park today. Or if the virus still haunts your favorite pool, the country lake. The grunts who have died since those first winters when this country was still being birthed, and those who stormed beaches in the 1940s, and those who have given their lives so far this year, would want their loved ones--and the rest of us--to live. Eat, drink and be merry, which was also written a long time ago in a certain Book.

We're reminded of a couple of cousins, little girls, at a promotion ceremony for a high-ranking Army lifer many years ago. They were related to the officer in some way, we remember. They both looked out-of-their-minds bored during the ceremony, in which salutes were traded and flags paraded around. Our thought: You little ladies go ahead and be bored. We are sure the soldier would have had it no other way. Why should little girls be concerned with thoughts of sacrifice and war and duty and loss and death and all the other? Let these girls be children. They'll understand sacrifice and loss soon enough.

Which is why we think that those who died in the service of their country wouldn't want a national day of mourning to scare and upset the kids. Throw water balloons instead, y'all.

Today is supposed to be a time for remembering, but after remembering, can we forget? We cannot recreate or relive the horror that our defenders saw, and we should not. We should go on. And be at peace. As they are. Isn't that what they really fought for? America of a Memorial Day weekend when their kids and grandkids and maybe great-great-great-great-grandkids could run barefoot through the yard chasing a football, puppy or little sister?

In every kid's yell, in every family's retelling of the same old stories, in every exuberance of youth and satisfaction of age, there is a tribute to those who have kept this land one and free, and have kept it secure even unto today, throbbing with life and still open to the pursuit of happiness.

What other country was founded in part to allow its people to pursue happiness? So let's do so.

These young people today just starting life? They are the best memorial.

Editorial on 05/25/2020

Print Headline: Memorial Day 2020


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