Memorial Day Thoughts-A Speech Given A Smedley Butler Veterans For Peace Member At The Annual Memorial Day For Peace Commemoration In Boston May 30, 2016
Those of you who know me and who have attended the Midnight Voices program that Veterans for Peace supports along with other organizations know that I periodically read some pieces about guys, mostly Vietnam veterans, guys from my generation who had a hard time coming back to the “real” world after “Nam.” Especially guys that I met when I was out in California after my own checkered military service. Guys whom Bruce Springsteen addressed in his powerful song-Brothers Under the Bridge. Most of the guys once they came to trust me, trust me as far as any guys could in that very here today, gone tomorrow world out under the bridges and along the railroad tracks of Southern California would want to talk about something, get something off their chests. Maybe it was about the war, maybe about some girl who sent them a Dear John letter which tore them up, and still did, maybe about the old neighborhood, especially if they were from the East and I might know about their town, maybe about buddies who got left behind in “Nam, whose names are now eternally etched in black marble down in Washington.
When I volunteered at our last VFP monthly meeting to be on the program today I knew I was going to be talking about one of those guys, talking about Phil Larkin, a guy from Carver down in cranberry bog country, down where the bogs provided work for generations of Larkins. Talk about him because the story he told me one night out in the Westminster railroad “jungle” while we were drinking cheap wine, cheap wine was all we had dough for fits in very nicely with what we are about here today. Phil, unlike a lot of veterans I met out West had had qualms about going into the service, had thought about jail, going to Canada, going underground you know the stuff a lot of guys from our time had to think through as we can under the threat of induction. He went in, went in when drafted and not before which he was very proud of, did the 11 Bravo route since cannon fodder was all they were looking for in late 1967, early 1968-later too. Took his physical beating, two purple hearts if I recall correctly, took his psychological beating which explained why he was drinking cheap wine with me out in some desolate railroad patch but that night he didn’t want to talk about himself but an uncle, no grand uncle, Frank O’Brian, whom when he said his name said it with a sneer. This guy, this grand uncle is why he wound up going into the service against his better instincts.
See Frank O’Brian had served in World War I, had died shortly after the war from some wounds he received during the war. Because of that, and because he was one of the few guys from Carver who had died in that war he had a square up by the town hall named after him, had a plaque stating as much. You know the corners and squares of most cities and towns in most countries of the world have such memorials to their war dead, needless to say far too many. Probably you I and pass five, ten every day without even recognizing them as such, except maybe today or on Armistice Day when some organization puts a flag or something to acknowledge those deaths.
But see that damn plaque was the final straw that got Phil into his olive drabs. Frank O’Brian was his Grandma Riley’s brother and when Phil tried to get counsel from that august, his word, old lady whom he loved dearly she tore into him said what would people think, what would her dead brother think if a Larkin/Riley/O’Brian son, a son of Carver did not do his duty. That ended any thought of Phil’s not going into the service. But you can see why he had that sneer on his face that night when he mentioned that uncle’s name. Maybe we should start naming the squares and corners of the world after those who would not serve in the military, the brave resisters who have languished in the prisons and stockades.