Francis Ford Coppola, Oscar winning director and screenwriter and wine maker extraordinaire, had a less than successful yet very good film in 1987 with “Gardens of Stone.” Dealing with the Old Guard, the Army unit assigned to the ceremonial duties at Arlington National cemetery, the story centers on a back story to the Vietnam conflict, the tension between preserving the living at all costs and honoring the dead for their payment of the “last full measure of devotion.” A good picture, top cast…worth the effort and today’s SIDEBAR movie metaphor.
As I write this piece, America observes the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the “Day of Infamy,” which changed a Nation, a generation and a world. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt appeared before Congress to quickly and resolutely lay out the unambiguous path to righteous victory, sending citizen and reporter alike to the dictionary to see what the word “infamy” actually meant. In the face of evil, America’s leader was clear with the moral path of leadership, first calming then inspiring his people. Oh, but how things have changed… and not for the better.
Following the largest terror attack on American soil since Sept the 11th, President Barrack Ambiguous Obama finally addressed his countrymen - from the Oval Office, behind a lectern, passionless and pained, clearly uncomfortable in the task that his office demands. His reluctant acknowledgment of the San Bernardino shootings as a terrorist attack was tinged with irrelevant fluff and the condescending assertion of success, this despite abundant bloody evidence from Benghazi to Paris to the contrary.
Missing in the address was any real affirmative notion that life was going to be better. More time was spent on blaming Republicans for not abandoning the Second Amendment and allowing all guns to be stripped from private owners than in accepting the presence of evil in the world. Moral relevancy is the coin of the Obama realm, where no lines of good versus evil can be drawn, as we are all evil in some way. Such pitiful weakness has always planted the seeds of the wicked fruit. All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. President George W. Bush, lacking perhaps the articulation of his successor, knew this simple notion. He found and destroyed the “evil doers.” While merely a punchline to some, adherence to its principle kept the USA safe from the predicted and ordained post 9-11 attack - at least on his watch. The judgment of History will be fair to Bush 43, and will salute this very point, most indeed amplified in the contrast to our current Commander – in – Chief.
At its core, History can be reduced to three words… REMEMBER… HONOR … TEACH… These same elements are the mission of a nationwide observance on the second Saturday of December. Now in its 9th year here in Alton, the “Wreaths across America” is a project modestly begun at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992, then after a 60 Minutes feature in 2005, exploded all throughout the land. Its function is to place Christmas wreaths on the graves in National Cemeteries, to give fitting tribute to the sacrifices of the departed so interred. While not all are heroes, nor even Veterans, the spirit of appreciation for the job done motivates the army of volunteers that each year come together pull off the seemingly impossible. School children working in harmony with assigned Veterans place the wreaths on the stones in a synchronized operation most worthy of its military nature.
As she has for all the years, this Saturday, Dec. 12, my dear wife Margaret will be the driving force behind the ceremony. It is always with immeasurable pride that I every year watch her carry out her role with style and grace, organized and efficient, respectful and polite. While no longer do the wreaths need be attended to by husbands the Sunday afternoon before, nor the bows placed by hand by the lovely ladies in attendance, the work is still to be done, and it always is Mission accomplished. This year, special attention will be paid to veterans of World War II, fittingly so as they in such numbers slip away in slumber. Among the honored – two most special Navy vets - my father in law George Reutter, and my Dad, Charlie Hopkins. I am so very grateful that my family is able to see such an event.
Thinking of the WWII vets, I am of course taken back. No doubt motivated by their President, they endured the sacrifices, suffered the lonely anxieties away from home with no certain outcome. No matter the branch, rank or deployment, they stood up to the face of Evil. It is no virtue to be blind to evil, no vice to be intolerant at any level. It is particularly imperative in times of war, declared or covert. Lincoln understood this in suspending Habeas Corpus; FDR likewise understood it in the interment of suspected saboteurs. It is all that we can hope for to see a revival of this spirit. But alas, it begins at the top. Take heart. Change is coming. Be not afraid.