My dad was a physician, a major in the U.S. Army, during World War II (explains why my twin brother and I were born in 1949). He talked about it somewhat but not a lot, even when I was old enough to understand. It was difficult for a relatively young doc who had zero travel experience outside the U.S. (and little desire to travel) to find himself in England as a physician. He certainly wasn't inexperienced as a physician as he'd graduated from Temple Medical School in 1931 and had been in practice for almost a decade. But, he was horrified by the camps and much of what he saw. I think he was at D-Day not terribly long after the landing. I suspect these experiences are what kept him from talking about the war very much.
I went to Belgium a few times in the early 1980's. On one of those trips I was going to the Trappist Abbey at Orval, in the Ardennes forest, for a short retreat. Having arrived in the area way too early I found the nearby memorial to the Battle of the Bulge to pass some time. It is impressive. It was also emotionally painful to be there. The unexpected emotions triggered by the visit to the memorial played a big part in my contemplations during the retreat.
Flash forward to the early 1990's when I was working in the psychiatry department at the White River Junction VA Hospital. I was able to establish a degree of rapport with some of the WW II vets by mentioning my dad's service. One remarkable episode occurred around the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1995. I was in the drop-in psychiatry clinic on Wednesday mornings. Suddenly a number of WW II vets were coming in with anxiety and tearfulness. More than a few of them broke down during appointments but couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me that the publicity about the bomb was all over. There were photo covers and long stories in Time and Newsweek (when they mattered) and so on. So I asked one of the men if it was safe to say that he tried to avoid the memories of the war but couldn't block them, that when the old black and white movies or documentaries about WW II were on TV late at night he didn't want to watch but found himself doing so, even until the wee hours of the morning. I made a few other observations. The man's jaw dropped. I suspect many of these men were having a recurrence of a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Viet Nam was, of course, different. Scratch the ticker-tape parades in Times Square at the end of the war. Rather than a sailor planting a passionate kiss on a nurse in her white uniform the enduring image is of a little girl burned with napalm. I still can't figure out what happened after the war. The treatment of the veterans of the Viet Nam war at the hands of the pot smoking baby boomers who hid behind their student deferments was hideous. (Yes, I had one at Penn State as a freshman. The first draft lottery was held--live on TV--December of sophomore year. My number was 350). A lot of pain over Viet Nam played out in the office two decades later.
I pray daily for the men and women in the military. Humans are never not going to go to war. We ain't wired for peace. Thus, I have little patience with the religious who go out and get themselves arrested while protesting war. Go to prison but please don't whine about it or try to assume the mantle of pseudo-martyrdom. No sympathy. Swords into plowshares? Nice idea but unworkable given man's basic sinful nature coupled with his territoriality. Pray for those men and women who have the courage to protect us. And pray for the repose of the souls of those who died in the wars extending from Afghanistan and Iraq back to the Civil and Revolutionary Wars.
Oddly enough, during nine years in D.C. I never made it over to Arlington Cemetery. Got to the Viet Nam and WW II memorials several times, including when Ignatius and I were there two weeks ago, but not Arlington. I think I was (and am) trying to avoid the overwhelming emotions that nailed me in the Ardennes Forest thirty years ago.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls rest in peace. Amen.
The attached photos come from Saturday 18 May when Ignatius and I visited the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge (I think). Back during theology we went there frequently to walk around and talk. It was a good way to decompress when we went at each other's throats while I was editing his thesis. Mt. Auburn Cemetery is beautiful. That is an understatement. Running. Skating. Biking. All are forbidden. It is a quiet tranquil place suited to long rambling walks and, of course, carrying a camera. Our visit last week was the first time I returned to Mt. Auburn since 2002. I will return alone. It is a lot easier to play with the camera without someone who is getting further and further ahead.
This is one of the vistas of the cemetery. The sun was playing hide-and-seek that day but it was there for this.
There are azaleas all over the place, including these framing some old tombstones.
These are some of the tombstones. In general, gravestone photos work better in black and white than color, particularly when the sun is bouncing off the light stone and blowing out detail or messing up the color.
This one reflects the high rate of infant mortality. The child was only 14 months.
The Scots Charitable Trust has its own section. The fence detail reflects the kind of workmanship that will never occur again.
One of the places Ignatius and I had to go was the top of the tower. It was always included back in the old days. Great views of Boston and Cambridge. The first is of the tower. It was a bit of a challenge to climb to the top.
Two views of Boston, one in color and the other, taken between the balustrade. The Harvard Stadium is in the foreground.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD