July 4, 2014

The Last of the Best: "If tomorrow all the things were gone ..."

Last year on a bright warm 4th of July morning in Queen Anne I went to my local coffee purveyor on the corner to get my usual. As usual I got in line. In front of me was an American-Asian family with two little girls, a Lesbian couple I'd seen around, a young girl and boy who looked like they were just coming home from a long date's night, a blond woman with her blond daughter, a Hispanic looking man with a toddler asleep in a stroller, and, of course, me, your average white guy.

As I stood there waiting for my coffee to be brewed I noticed a frail old man I hadn't seen before sitting by the window looking at the people walking by outside. I'd put him somewhere in his late 80s with a face of keen features and arms that suggested an earlier strength but which now contained bones almost bird-like. He had gold rimmed glasses on behind which were quick blue eyes. He was wearing plain khaki trousers, and a beige short-sleeved shirt. On his head he wore one of those standard issue baseball caps that said "U.S. Navy."

As I was leaving the coffee shop I stopped for a moment and said, "Excuse me, Sir, but were you in the Navy?"

"Thirty years," he said, "starting in World War II. I handled amphibious landing boats in the Pacific. Kwajalein, Iwo Jima, Lyete Gulf, Okinawa. "

"Thank you," I said, shaking his hand. "I thank all of you."

"You're welcome. There's not too many of us left. Getting down to less than three million I understand."

"I hope you have many more Fourths," I said.

"Me too. I like it here. You know, except for the time in the Navy I've lived up here on Queen Anne all my life. It's better here today, better in the country today. Not the political stuff. I don't have much to say about that. But in the way we all live together up here now. It's more different than it was. More kinds of people now. And that's better."

"I agree," I said saying good bye. "And thank you and your whole generation again for giving me everything I've had all my life."

"Any time," he said, looking past me at a family of five that was bicycling past the window in the warm morning sun. "It was an honor."

[First published July 4,2011. And no, I never saw him again.]

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I'd worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.

I'd thank my lucky stars,
to be livin here today.
'Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can't take that away.

And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

From the lakes of Minnesota,
to the hills of Tennessee.
Across the plains of Texas,
From sea to shining sea.

From Detroit down to Houston,
and New York to L.A.
Well there's pride in every American heart,
and its time we stand and say.

That I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

And I'm proud to be and American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

Posted by Vanderleun at July 4, 2014 12:55 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Very fine little coffee shop vignette, Gerard. If you see him again, thank him for me!

Posted by: Webutante at July 4, 2011 4:00 PM

God bless you for sharing!

Posted by: ChiefTestPilot at July 4, 2011 5:33 PM

Thank you for your observations. Most people would just pass-by. Your gentleman reminds me of my beloved uncles who served in the Canadian Army long ago.

Posted by: Circe at July 4, 2011 6:50 PM

It is men like that, Gerard that motivated my daughter to join. I worry about her with the current commander in chief, but then I don't. She is a focused and determined young woman. An asset to our culture. I hope, that when she finishes sacrificing her time and talents for her country, people like you come up and thank her for her service, too. It was a beautiful story. Thank you for telling it.

Posted by: Jewel at July 4, 2011 10:28 PM

Well spoke, sir. And I might miss your dad as much as you do.

Posted by: Velociman at July 4, 2011 10:42 PM

Thank you Gerard.

Posted by: Cilla Mitchell, Galveston Texas at July 5, 2011 5:37 AM

"More kinds of people now and that's better."

Why? How? Specifically.

Posted by: mare at July 5, 2011 6:39 AM

mare - I submit that more types of people around are always better, always supposing that they don't try to impose their values on everybody else. Two types who do that spring to mind are two that hate each other; radical Islamists and fundie "Christians".

On the subject of the OP: well, I've done something similar, when walking past a Remembrance Day celebration at my town's local war memorial. I shook an old soldier (or maybe sailor or airman, he wasn't in uniform but in the old veteran's standard over here in the UK of a blazer, complete with medals) by the hand and thanked him. Two sad things about that were that his first reaction was fear at my approach, and that (as he told me) my thanks were the first acknowledgement he had had that year.

I very much doubt that the UK will need mass mobilisation again; technology has largely substituted for numbers. That's probably a good thing, unfortunately, for I doubt that the youth of today would respond as their grandfathers did. Does that make me sound old?

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 5, 2011 7:09 AM

"...and fundie "Christians"." say wot? Now there's a scurvy lot of throat cutters to be found in nefarious places. Been known to blow up babies and rape wimmen at the drop of a crucifix.

Your only hope Fletcher is some secluded life in a Shinto Monastery.

Posted by: Peccable at July 5, 2011 8:09 AM

"mare - I submit that more types of people around are always better,"

Yes, but why?

I can understand an older man sitting in a coffee shop enjoying people watching and enjoying it more the stranger the people. My father who was 92 when he died almost daily went to a Starbucks or McDonald's with several others to chat and people watch. The stranger they saw, the better the conversation.

Just want to remind people of those "more kinds" includes the scum highlighted at this site here: http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/picturethis/bikenaked_seatt.php

Not to mention the drunks, drug addled homeless, etc.

I've lived in a place where I look different from most, and my children looked different than most of the other students at their school, I have no problem with "different." I just think the whole, "we must have diversity" is way overplayed and no one has specifically told me why "more kinds" is better.

Posted by: mare at July 5, 2011 11:45 AM

Human nature and diversity= Oil and water

Posted by: jeffersonranch at July 5, 2011 1:53 PM

Hey, "Mr Christian":
Maybe those "fundie" Christians understand the very real and present threat those radical Islamists pose to their - and your - way of life.

I propose:
1. Christians do not hate Muslims. Christians rightly look askance at the Religion of PeaceTM that cuts off heads, stones women and hangs gays (and Hindus and Buddhists...and other Muslims), imposes sharia where ever it goes, and practices taqqiya. You know: condoning lying when it suits their purpose of jihad on the West. Hey wait, that's all Muslims. Darn it all.

2. Muslims do hate fundies. And you, and me, and everyone in the West.

3. Christians do pray for Muslims.

Don't doubt it.

Posted by: Flyover Pilgrim at July 5, 2011 7:20 PM

Yes, and fundies pray for the rest of us heathens who don't bow every day to Mrs. Grundy, too. Also, they have a nasty habit of trying to impose their moral values on everyone else (and sometimes succeeding) - which was what Prohibition was about. I suppose that benefited a fair number of Italian-Americans with good tailors, and also the manufacturers of the Thompson gun.

Oh, and the benefit of fundamentalist "Christianity" to science education can't be doubted. /sarc

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 5, 2011 10:53 PM

Fletcher, you and your island will be groveling in a scimitar shortly. There is no reason to be worrying about any "Fundie" religion except the one telling you now what law you'll respect. That's not the one ensconced in the Magna Carta.

One notes that the Brits do grovel well.

Posted by: Peccable at July 6, 2011 5:19 PM

hi my name is nora and i like to dedacate this song to my JROTC teacher hes an awesome teacher and he teaches other student things that i didint even know anyway he is proud to be an american soldier and he is proud to an american and so am i

Posted by: nora moreno at August 19, 2011 5:00 AM

Well, tomorrow Americans celebrate their freedom - and why should they not? It's interesting to think, though, what might have happened if King George hadn't been quite such an idiot about the desire of the Americans for self-determination. IMHO the USA would have been independent eventually, anyway.

But as you're celebrating your freedom, try thinking just a little about where the ideals that you claim to live by come from, huh?

Oh, and Peccable - a certain Bohemian corporal found out the hard way that Brits don't grovel well. As did a chancer from Corsica a hundred and forty years earlier. The first, managed for two years while the "home of the brave and the land of the free" sat on its collective hands.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 3, 2012 3:29 PM

Reposting this from rachellucas.com:

If the human weathervane Kennedy had been the deciding vote and Roberts had been in the minority, it would have been utterly unsurprising. The decision would have been disappointing, but there wouldn’t have been the massive sense of shock, outrage, and betrayal that many of us feel. What Roberts did was akin to someone opening a gate in the wall of a besieged city, while the rest of the populace was desperately trying to repel the invaders. His name will go down in American history alongside Benedict Arnold’s.

Once again we see a Republican-nominated justice enable the further growth of government. Why do we never see liberal justices go off the reservation like this? If we can’t trust justices nominated by Republican presidents to uphold the Constitution and the principles of human liberty, what hope is there?

I have absolutely zero faith that Romney and the Republican leadership will repeal this, no matter how overwhelming their victory in November. Most of them are statists, and they will not relinquish the massive new powers the government has been granted. I’ve been saying at a number of sites that the American Republican Party is becoming like the “conservative” or “right” parties of Europe. They never seriously question or challenge the welfare/nanny state. Do the British Tories advocate for the individual ownership of firearms? Not that I’m aware of. Now that we have National Health Care, the Republicans will simply argue that they can administer it better than the Democrats.

I love Bill Whittle, and I remember when he was a commenter at your old site. I’ve read most of his essays and watched many of his videos. I appreciate that he’s trying to get us to buck up. But honestly, I think Ann Barnhardt is being much more realistic about our predicament. I’m in fundamental agreement with her. I think we are past the point of being able to vote our way out of this.

I have no desire to celebrate anything tomorrow. I am seriously considering flying my flag upside down. On the other hand, now that I’m living in the USSA, I have to wonder whether it may be unwise to call attention to myself.

Posted by: rickl at July 3, 2012 5:35 PM

Fletch is being too modest when he says the Brits don't grovel very well. I seem to remember when some 15 armed British sailors were kidnapped by the Iranians in a rubber dinghy while in Iraqi waters and then shamefully used by their kidnappers as propaganda. I heard that some of them EVEN HAD THEIR IPODS TAKEN AWAY! The outrage.
Perhaps Teh Queen's Roolz of Engagement for armed soldiers is always to surrender.
Sounds like our DHS urging border patrol agents to run and hide when guests start shooting at them with ATF supplied weapons.

Posted by: Jewel at July 3, 2012 7:48 PM

Actually, Fletch, it was the medieval Church (yes, the one from Rome) that preserved and expanded literary, scientific, and artistic knowledge, as well as laying the basis for the free enterprise system. This all happened centuries before the Reformation and the Renaissance, in some cases continuing largely unbroken from the time the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed in AD 476. The monasteries which sprang up all over Europe around this time can take most of the credit. That they valued physical labor is well-known. What is less well-known is that a remarkable degree of free intellectual inquiry was also to be found amongst the monks, leading to advances in agriculture, industry (use of water power, to cite one example), mathematics, and astronomy. And the cathedrals in the major towns were the entities around which the first universities were founded (i.e., Cambridge). Much later, the contribution of the Jesuits to seismology beginning in the late 19th Century is so extensive that it is still sometimes known as the "Jesuit Science". None of this happened anywhere but in the Christian West, Catholic, and Protestant. Not in Islam, not in China, not in India, not even in Christian Byzantium, where ancient knowledge was preserved but not questioned or expanded upon. But just keep those blinders on about how "anti-science" the Church writ large is.

Posted by: waltj at July 3, 2012 8:58 PM

My father in law stepped off landing boats onto hostile Japanese shores eight times. When he was 89, my wife and I took him to the WW2 Memorial in Washington, DC, which I posted about here. He turned 93 this month.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at July 4, 2012 4:50 AM

My father in law stepped off landing boats onto hostile Japanese shores eight times. When he was 89, my wife and I took him to the WW2 Memorial in Washington, DC, which I posted about here. He turned 93 this month.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at July 4, 2012 5:00 AM

I went through my family history, and we are one family whose dates of birth have enabled our ranks to escape the sacrifices so many others have made:
My great-great grandfather was born in the 1860s, my great grandfather in the 1880s. My grandfather was born in 1903, my father was born in 1936, my brother in 1960. All of them served in the military during peacetime. They, to a man, never saw combat.
Who knows if the cycle will be broken with my children or theirs? All I know is, I am grateful to all those who have fought in war, who have died, who have lived to tell me about it, and I have done my best to raise my fortunate children to be thankful and respectful of those who have served. Thank you.

Posted by: Jewel at July 4, 2012 6:01 PM

It seemed everyone was in a somber mood this year at the north end of 10th W, just above the college. The fireworks on Lk. Union are usually met with a lot of excited chatter and plenty ooooohhhs and awwwwhhhhs. The guys across the street are usually sitting on the roof in lawn chairs, drinking their beers and providing the sound system (boom box) of the simulcast music for the display on the lake. This year the roof dwellers (and their boom box) were absent for the first time in memory, the adults sat on their blankets and bits of conversation included observations of the jobs situation, the economy, taxes; all this among the liberal of the liberal on Queen Anne in Seattle. But they're still gonna vote for obama.

We upheld our Independence Day tradition by breaking out the wine, dragging our illegal class C explosives out and disturbing everyone's sleep until midnight.

Posted by: AbigailAdams at July 6, 2012 8:25 AM