Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms
Through these fields of destruction
On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My name, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anyone else with the same name. I know about one other man with my name, but we’ve never met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. This is the story of how that happened.
It was an August Sunday in New York City in 1975. I’d decided to bicycle from my apartment on East 86th and York to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since moving to the city in 1974, it seemed like a destination that would be interesting. Just how interesting, I had no way of knowing when I left.
August Sundays in New York can be the best times for the city. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their clients and most of the other professional classes. The city seems almost deserted, the traffic light and, as you move down into Wall Street and the surrounding areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that form the bottom of the narrow canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. Then you emerge from the streets into the bright open space at Battery Park.
Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A few people are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Everything is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way down to the Battery that day since, even though it appears to be flat, there is a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and got one of the dubious Sabaretts hot dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.
We were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over everything, thought of, if they were thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about at the midway point between two world wars. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. The only war we knew of was the Second World War and the background humm of the Cold War. It was a summer Sunday and we were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”
In front of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught my attention. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 feet wide, 20 feet tall and 3 feet thick. From a distance you could see that they had words carved into them from top to bottom. There was also a lot of shade between them so I took my hot dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I remember that the stone was cool against my back as I sat there looking at the stone across from me on that warm afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the words cut into the stones were all names. Just names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their death in the north Atlantic in WWII. I was to learn later that there were 4,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all without any marker for their graves — except those in the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up around me.
I read across several rows, moving right to left, then down a row, and then right to left. I got to the end of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
At the beginning of the seventh row, I read the name: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.
If you have an unusual name, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the dead on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I’d always known why, but I’d never known about the stone or the names cut into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, of course, not me. He was someone else entirely. Someone who had been born, lived, and died before I was even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s middle brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide in the Second World War. He was one of their three sons. He was dead before he was 22 years old. His body never recovered, the exact time and place of his death over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was always called “Jerry.” “Jerry” is not a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the first child born after his death, I was given his name, Gerard. But as a child I was never called by that name. I was always called “Jerry.” “Jerry” is not a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. But “Jerry” I would be because the mere mention of the name “Gerard” was enough to send my grandmother into a dark state of mind that would last for weeks. This was true, as far as I know, for all the days of her life and she lived well into her 80s.
My grandfather could barely speak of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was wrong to ask.
My father, who was refused service in the Second World War due to a bout of rheumatic fever as a child that left him with the heart murmur that would kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t fight and wouldn’t speak of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was a great, brave kid.”
My uncle, the baby of the family, spent a year or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that war first hand. He was my only living relative who’d been in a war. He would never speak of his war at all, but it must have been very bad indeed.
… a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it…
I know this because, when I was a teenager, I was out in his garage one day and, opening a drawer, I found an old packet of photographs, grimy with dust at the back under a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white photos with rough perforated edges showed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothing on patches of dirty snow that proved to be, on closer inspection, dead Korean soldiers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The full horror show.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t part with them. At the same time he couldn’t look at them. So he shoved them into a drawer with other unused junk from his past and left it at that. He never spoke of Korea except to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has quit speaking of anything, he never will. His only comment to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a great kid. You can be proud to have his name. Just don’t use it around Grandma.”
And I didn’t. No one in my family ever did. All through the years that I was growing up at home, I was “Jerry.”
In time, I left home for the University and, in the manner of young men in the 1960s and since, I came upon a lot of new and, to my young mind, excellent ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a name I associated for some reason with young men with red hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I would reject my family’s preferences and call myself by my given name, ‘Gerard.’ In fact, in the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I would insist upon it. I duly informed my parents and would correct them when they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This attitude served me well enough and soon it seemed I had trained my bothers and my parents in my new name. Of course, I’d taken this name not because of who my uncle had been or because of the cause for which he gave his life, but for the selfish reason that it simply sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US military that was “brutally repressing” the people of Vietnam. We were stupid and young and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has changed the youth and stupidity of its students. If anything, my era at the University just made it somehow possible for Berkeley students to think that their attitudes were as noble and as pure in their minds as they were stupid and selfish in reality. I was no longer a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I was going to make the world safe from America.
“Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry?”
My name change plan went well as long as I confined it to my immediate family and my friends at the University. It went so well that it made me even stupid enough to try to extend it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their home.
At some point during the meal, my grandmother said something like, “Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry?”
And because I was a very selfish and stupid young man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everyone here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just got to get used to calling me that.”
Immediately, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the center of the table and expanded until it reached the walls and then just dropped down over the room like a large, dark shroud.
Nobody moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family came around and looked at me. Not angry, but just looking. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes were wet, rose from the table and said, “No. I can’t do that. I just can’t.” She left the table and walked down the hallway to her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
The silence compounded itself until my grandfather rose from his chair and walked to the middle of the hallway. He took a framed photograph off the wall where hung next to a framed gold star. It had been in that place so long that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked back to the table and very gently handed me the photograph. It showed a smooth-faced handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually against the fuselage of a bomber. You could see the clear plastic in the nose of the plane just above his head to his right. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I looked at the picture. “You are not Gerard. You just have his name, but you are not him. That is my son. He is Gerard. If you don’t mind, we will continue to call you Jerry in this house. If you do mind, you do not have to come here any more.”
Then he took the picture away and put it back in its place on the wall. He knocked on the bedroom door, went in, and in a few minutes he and my grandmother came back to the table. Nobody else had said a word. We’d just sat there. I was wishing to be just about anyplace else in the world than where I was.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you like some more creamed onions?”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My parents never said a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit, they continued to call me Gerard. But not at my grandparents’ house.
A decade passed.
In 1975, I leaned against a monument in Battery Park in New York and read a name cut into stone among a list of the dead. That long ago Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful detail. I tried to understand what that name in the stone had meant to my family when it became the only thing that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up in the Atlantic during a war that finished before I drew breath.
I tried to understand what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, but I could not. I was a child of the long peace who had avoided his war and gone on to make a life that, in many ways, was spent taking-down the things that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I was thirty then and not yet a parent. That would come a few years later and, with the birth of my daughter, I would at last begin, but only begin, to understand.
Today it makes me feel cheap and contemptible to think of the things I did in my youth to point out all the ways in which this country fails to achieve some fantasied perfection. I was a small part of promulgating a great wrong and a large lie for a long time, and I’m sure there’s no making up for that. My chance to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the name on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to try, in some way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long War, I still cannot claim to understand the deep sense of duty and the strong feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never known to sacrifice themselves. Lately though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World War, I think that, at last, I can somehow dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to give “the last full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, will have to do.
Since finding his name on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place a number of times. I once took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made a point of going to the monument as soon as the way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
But if you go the monument today, you can still see the name in the stone. It’s not my name, but the name of a man much better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the right side of the monument looking towards the sea. The name is usually in shadow and almost impossible to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You can see it, but you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you are, you’re not that tall.
Written and first published on Memorial Day, 2003
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During my decades in the cities, returning to New York by air at night mezmerized me during the long approach. Sliding down over the Alleghenies from the west, curving in over the Atlantic from the South, or throttling back and easing off the Great Circle Route from Europe, the emergence of the vast sprawl of lights that defined the Hive always enraptured me. On moonless nights, after the humming hours held in that aluminum cylinder hoisted into mid-heaven, you saw the long continents of dark water or land dissolve into shimmering white-gold strands connecting to clusters of earth-anchored constellations that merged to expanding galaxies of towns, suburbs, and cities until all below was a shimmering web of man-made stars.
As you swept down still lower, these massive meadows of stars resolved to highways and streets, boroughs and neighborhoods, houses and buildings and the yellow prongs of headlights darting under the streetlights. Then you were over the boundary, the runway blurring just beneath your seat. A bump and a bounce, engines reversing, weight shifting forward then back, and you were down and rolling towards the gate. If you were coming in from the Caribbean there was grateful applause for the pilot for the miracle of a safe landing.
You deplaned, grabbed your bags, hailed a cab and soon lurched along the Long Island Expressway, part of those headlights hazed beneath streetlights you’d looked down on only minutes before. The meter clicked past $30.00, the skyline of Manhattan rose behind the gravestones of the vast cemetery, a bridge and a toll and you were back in the Hive.
I loved the Hive across all the long years I lived within it. It was at once exciting and exasperating, densely communal and achingly lonely, empowering and eviscerating, inspiring and degrading. It never stopped coming at you and, on those days when your mental defenses were weak and your emotional shields wavered, it could splatter your soul. The same random evening stroll through downtown that would show you six people ambling along dressed as gigantic baked potatoes (complete with a pat of butter, gob of sour cream and chives), would also show you a wizened bum so diminished that he would drop his trousers, squat, and defecate in the middle of the sidewalk as bond traders in bespoke suits and handmade English shoes stepped carefully around the spectacle seeing nothing, nothing at all.
An old friend with little use for it describes the Hive as, “Hell with good restaurants.”
But Hell hath its charms no less than Heaven; more it would seem than mere Heaven for how else does it hold so many in thrall for so long? Did not Milton, who being blind saw so deeply, declare, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven?” In the Hive as in Hell, there’s always someone lower in the ranking than you, until, of course, you become the defecating bum or another one of the soul-gutted homeless set out randomly on the streets as both warnings and talismans of what can happen should you fail to toe the line, talk the talk, and walk the walk that the Hive demands in exchange for your small but continuing prosperity.
These small skills of toeing, talking and walking I mastered early during my time in the Hive. I continued to deploy them with some modest success. I say modest since, just as there was always no shortage of those beneath you in the Hive, so too did the heap of souls piled there rise far above you. Exactly how far their relative altitude was above yours was always measured only by the cold metric of gold. And if the Hive is long on anything, it is gold. Except of course that no matter how gold much you acquire, you only have a little of all that there is to be had, a fact that keeps people in the Hive long after there’s any real human need for being there. In the Hive there’s always more gold to be had. The only thing asked for in exchange is time, of which the Hive never has enough since to be in the Hive is to squander your time at a greater rate than you realize until you turn around, three decades are gone, and at last you know you’re running low.
Soon it will be 15 years since I left the Hive and I’ve no inclination to return. It’s easy to say that my love affair with that life ended in fire, smoke and ash on the crisp and clear morning of September 11, 2001, but that’s only a convenient peg on which to hang the more complicated dissolution of an unwritten pact. It more probably began in a car northeast of the city some ten years before when my first wife decided to redefine the word “normal” for my 11-year-old daughter.
Or perhaps it began in a hundred other equally mundane moments. In truth, you are either growing into a thing or growing out of it and towards something else, some other phase of this long series of repeated lessons handed out by existence for what you hope is some purpose, although what purpose that might be is always obscure. No matter. As the early Portuguese explorers knew, “It is important to travel. It is not important to arrive.”
By the time I left the Hive, whatever had once bound me to it had long since frayed away. The upward pace of a “career” seemed more and more like a pointless marathon, a mere job. Long days spent striving to “exceed corporate goals” came to resemble a game of pick-up-sticks played with cows. Efforts to save an enterprise that one didn’t own came down to admitting that the enterprise had no intrinsic worth other than maintaining the vulgar lifestyle of an aging monomaniac who could no longer reason his way through two and two to four. Add to that the compulsion to continue connections with past friends and present family that only seemed to use and never to give, and it all combined into a vast fog of disappointment that obscured the plain and simple fact that while government employees were working 24 hours a day printing more money, nobody anywhere was printing more time.
And so, at last, you’ve got to go.
Yes, as Jack Kerouac, Bard of the Road, wrote “Man, you gotta go.” Then he went home.
Okay. Fair enough. But go where? Here? Maybe. But where, exactly, is “here?”
Today, for a week or so, “here” turns out to be a small town up on the northwest edge of the nation. In size and composition, architecture and attitude, it is just about the exact polar opposite of the Hive. Where Central Park in the Hive is a large, long oblong of struggling overused green in the center of an immense slab of asphalt, steel and concrete, the central park of this town is about 15 yards on a side. It’s a pleasant patch of cool grass studded with picnic tables and ringed with oaks that drape it in a shawl of shade. At the east end is a brick and cedar bandstand where banjos, guitars and fiddles sing out on odd afternoons and evenings. You’ll hear some country and some rock, but mostly you’ll hear the strains of bluegrass brought down out of the old Alleghenies and carried far west to these higher, more distant and demanding mountains.
On the west side of the park is a five-foot by three-foot marble faced granite slab in the shape of two tablets donated and erected there by the local chapter of the Eagles. Carved into the marble face in polished script are the Ten Commandments, King James version. It would seem that whatever local chapter of the ACLU exists in these parts has chosen to ignore this blatant eruption of the Christian tradition in the secular town park. One might suppose the ACLU has done this simply because it hasn’t gotten around to it. It would, however, be much more likely that the organization is aware that in this town an ACLU suit to remove the Ten Commandments would be answered not with a five year legal argument, but with 30 rounds of semi-automatic rifle fire into the offices and automobiles of those seeking its removal. Since, for all its posturing, the ACLU has devolved into a refuge for moral and physical cowards with law degrees, it’s not difficult to see why this stone, largely unread and unnoticed, has been given a pass.
No, I don’t see these tow-heads as fringe-kookburgers. I see them as a direction where we’re headed. We haven’t quite had anything like this before, have we? We had the hippie movement. Before hippies, there were beatniks. But this is different. It’s a heading, I think, that won’t be changed until such time as some influence from the outside produces such change. The individuals might grow out of it, as real life challenges them to recognize reality & actually solve problems. But they will be replaced by more ditzy kids just entering the phase, so that it hangs around us like a bad smell. It is the price of our success, we have all these airheads who have time to protest about nothing.
Even McDonalds will need people to load frozen patties into the cooking robots, top off the ketchup and mustard tanks, etc. We just won’t have pre-literate Third World troglodytes and Common Core Trigglypuff grads trying to puzzle out how to input the burgers from pictures of same, and make change for a twenty without taking off their shoes. That’s akin to telling me that the DMV will be replacing the fifty people doing make-work jobs with five machines that will actually work, without taking two-hour potty breaks, and don’t come with a pre-loaded Entitlement Chip and surly attitude. (And, for the killer app bonus, machines don’t rack up annual accrual deficits against the state’s bankrupt pension fund. They also don’t get promotions, or need family leave. They just get melted down for scrap when they quit working.) Be still, my beating heart!
For those who want to strike a balance between consumerist amenities, natural beauty, and social connectedness, the Pacific Northwest is the place for you. In addition, small- and medium-sized cities in the Pacific Northwest and the Intermountain West offer a good balance between social capital and quality of life concerns. These cities have both the physical and social infrastructure to help people enjoy their community while also building the sort of emotional attachment required for long-term civic health. Unfortunately, the PNW is also loaded down with the worst shitlib Whites in the country, a veritable outpost of soylandia uptalkers and bluehair fatties. You have to get away from the coast before people start resembling normal, sexually dimorphic humans again.
“The Chinese Leader’s three-and-a-half hour speech a couple weeks ago was the single most important political speech of the 21st century. I think you could actually argue that years from now people might say it started there. Because he fundamentally went through how the Chinese Confuscious mercantilist authoritative model has beaten the West.”
“It’s their world now,” he continued. “They’re a hegemonic power. It’s not that they’re rising to be a hegemonic power. It’s not that what they always wanted to be was considered a great power along with the United States and Russia. They’re saying, hey, the game’s over. And by the way there are five things the Chinese are doing right now, one is called Plan 2025, which they will dominate, they laid this out a few years ago. They will dominate ten separate industries, including robotics, artificial intelligence, chip manufacturing, all by the year 2525 and they’re very far down the road in doing that.”
“Number two is one belt, one road, where they’re taking the geopolitical strategies of this guy named Mackinder, a Scottish guy and Mahan, who was this great theoretician in America that laid out what the British did in sea power. The Chinese are doing it. They’re tying together the central Asian countries with this Old Silk road. The World Island, who controls central Asia controls the world.”
Remember how you felt a year ago when you knew, really knew, that Trump would win? This is how I felt.
“He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing, He does not shy away from the sword. He cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.”
“Scha·den·freu·de” I…. I…. I wish I knew how to quit you!
Many Conservatives and Republicans today are taking a One-Year-Of-Trump victory lap drenched in so much schadenfreude they might as well be in a wet T-shirt contest for the morbidly obese. With Trump in the White house, they are asking, “What difference can another few years of Progressive/Liberal’s existence make? The damage has been done. It can’t get worse. Trump. Trump will make it right again. Right?”
To which we Ancient Ones respond, “Really? Are you new? Were you just born beneath a banana leaf? We are dealing with Progressives, Liberals, and, yes, the ObamaZombies of America. With these alien life forms the ruling rule is always: “It. Gets. Worse.”
Trump might be around, but so are the “Republicans who thirst for death.” In case you haven’t been paying attention, the ObamaZombies of America have been making a list and checking it twice since George Orwell was a zygote. Here area few items still left on their to-do list and when the ObamaZombies of America make list a to-do they mean to do it. To you.
Can they do it to you? As their twice elected Barry Hussain ObamaZombie has said, “Yes, we can!”
So don’t continue to make ObamaZombies into (electoral) compost. Just lie back, relax, think of the country you once had and say to yourself, as disappointed wives have said since time immemorial, “Beige. I think I’ll paint the ceiling beige.”
Here’s the stuff they still want to get done. Always remember that if the ObamaZombies of America have not been turned into (electoral) compost with a head shot they’ll just keep on lurching towards the final horror show.
1. Abortions R’ US (also know as “MA1.5”): Mandatory Abortions after 1.5 children (MA1.5) for everybody except special congress people and high-net worth Democratic donors who can buy one or two more kids with every election cycle. To make it easy and cheap to obtain this service, all Democrats in the House and Senate will receive funding to open abortion clinics in their own official offices throughout their home state. Supplemental funding will be attached so that every abortion also comes with a free turkey dinner and fill up the the constituents EBT card.
1.a. Eco-rider to “Abortions R’ US ” (MA1.5): To better conserve the scarce resources of our eternally-endangered Planet, all aborted fetuses will be harvested into artisanal beer coolers, packed with small-batch dry ice, and dispersed by means of surplus FBI, IRS, CIA and NSA Lear Jets to Federal tissue and organ banks for the future use of important Americans such as politicians, film-stars, social media moguls, dot-com billionaires, and their heirs and assigns in good standing with the DNC. More stored “sustainable” abortions means a better chance of a perfect match should members of these groups pack in their livers, kidneys, brains, or sexual organs with booze or drugs. If this had been done 40 years ago Walt Disney, Ted Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter would still be alive. [click to continue…]
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!
Turn backwards, turn backwards, time in thy flight,
and make me a child again just for tonight.
The “they” of “They” didn’t like it what they felt the knife begin to go in to the hilt: Here are just a few examples of the quotes, from earlier in the evening to later:
Zara Rahim, Clinton campaign national spokeswoman: We were waiting for the coronation. I was planning my Instagram caption…
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight: When I was coming in on the train at 5 p.m., according to our model, there was one-in-three chance of a Clinton landslide, a one-in-three chance of a close Clinton win, and a one-in-three chance of a Trump win. I was mentally preparing myself for each of those outcomes.…
Ashley Parker, The Washington Post, formerly of The New York Times: The RNC thought they were going to lose. The Trump campaign supporters thought they were going to lose. They were rushing to get their side out of the blame game. I spent part of my day lining up interviews for later that night or the next morning to get their version of events.…
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, Trump’s religious adviser: I called Sean Hannity and said, “I really think he’s going to win tonight.” Sean said, “Well, I’m glad you do, because the exit polls don’t look good.” I found out later that Trump was very pessimistic, too.…
[click to continue…]