Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Living in Maine Like a Bird of the Air

A few years ago I attended a meeting of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society at Bowdoin College which Hawthorne attended for four years, graduating with the Class of 1825. I spoke on the subject of Hawthorne and his college chums - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s most revered poets, and Franklin Pierce, one of its most reviled presidents. A third would serve in the state legislature and was eventually elected to the House of Representatives from the new State of Maine. He would die at the hands of a Congressional colleague in one of the last legal duels held in the United States, an event which Hawthorne would roundly condemn. Last summer I had an opportunity to deliver another talk on Hawthorne at a scholarly conclave in Concord, Massachusetts, where he resided late in life and where he is buried. This time I discussed his travels throughout northern New England. One of these, his last as it would turn out, was in the company of his old Bowdoin classmate, Franklin Pierce.

This summer I was invited to the Hawthorne House in Raymond, which is just a short distance from our summer cottage here in Maine. The subject of this talk was Hawthorne’s connections with the State of Maine. For many years the maternal side of his family was associated with a broad wilderness tract along the eastern shores of Lake Sebago, in Cumberland County. Hawthorne considered these youthful years in Raymond some of his happiest, and he cherished the time he spent wandering the woods and fishing the lake and nearby streams. “I lived in Maine like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed.,” Hawthorne would later admit.. “But it was there I first got my cursed habits of solitude.” Ebe, Nathaniel’s sister, saw a great change in her brother as a result of his time in Maine. “His imagination was stimulated, too, by the scenery and by the strangeness of the people; and by the absolute freedom he enjoyed.” This early association with this area was responsible for his choosing to attend Bowdoin College.

I understand Hawthorne’s sentiment. I feel the same way each and every time I am able to return to Maine and this is why I am spending the entire summer here. I will be posting several accounts of my weeks here before we return home in early October, and don’t be surprised if I include an occasional reference to Mr. Hawthorne along the way. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the enjoyment of the solitude and peace of mind this place affords me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Close Encounters of the Moose Kind

A recent issue of The Economist reported how moose were brought to Newfoundland almost a century ago to encourage tourists and hunters and to boost the economy of Britain’s last colony in North America. Moose, often considered a Canadian icon, were not indigenous to insular Newfoundland, but then it did not join Canada until 1949 and now they have more moose than they know what to do with. With no natural predators on the island, not even the hunters (5000 additional hunting licenses granted this year alone) have been able to hold them at bay and the current population is estimated to be around 150,000. The only effective means to reduce the moose population is to hit them with your car, which the Newfoundlanders have been doing in increasing numbers. Around 700 moose are hit annually on provincial roads.

OK, I have learned from my own experience that moose are not the smartest critters to come off Noah’s ark at the end of the big flood. Their eyesight and sense of hearing are both limited and, if one is careful, one can often get quite close to a moose before it realizes you are there. As shy and passive as they seem to be at first blush, they more often than not seem perplexed when they encounter humans, especially if they are caught in the headlights of a car cruising down the highway. Despite the small number of roads compared to the hundreds of square miles of uninterrupted and uninhabited forest and tundra found in the primary moose habitats, they (especially juveniles and their doting mamas) tend to congregate near or on roadways. Perhaps they are escaping the pesky biting insects found in the woods and swamps, but more likely they are attracted to the salt that has accumulated on or near the roadbeds during winter snow removal. Recognizing this fact, the province of Québec is now using less salt on its roads and other jurisdictions are following suit. This said, you still need to remain vigilant when driving through the northern woods, especially in the summer months. Several years ago I almost hit an imposing bullwinkle standing in the middle of the highway at night as I crossed Grafton Notch near the Maine-New Hampshire border. This before I learned to take “Moose Crossing” signs seriously. You would too if you considered the consequences of a half ton or more of moose flesh coming through the windshield at 55 mph!

Not every encounter with a moose has been quite so dramatic The first confrontation occurred when my family and I were hiking a wilderness trail in northen Maine’s Baxter State Park. We chanced upon a relatively large cow (yes, that is what they call a female moose; a male is a “bull”) blocking our path. Being city folk, we were not quite sure what we were suppose to do. Would it ignore us? Would it charge us and kill us on the spot? At the moment it did not seem to pay us any mind as it quietly fed on twigs and grasses along the trail. We approached a little closer so that we could get a good photograph. It still ignored us. So we moved a little closer. As we approached, the cow turned her head in our direction. Did she hear? Did she smell us? She continued to look our way but we were not sure if she saw us as she resumed her feeding. So we moved a little closer. This time she suddenly raised her head and once again turned in our direction. She shook her head and her ears went back. We knew she had spotted us and we stopped dead in out tracks. There was no way for us to go except the way we came in and as fast as our legs would carry us. But we did not run. We waited and in a few moments the cow walked gently and quietly into the surrounding puckerbrush and soon disappeared from sight. We were amazed how such a large animal could move so discreetly. We continued our hike, and upon our return to that spot we stopped and looked around hoping we might spot her again. But she was gone . . . or was she?

On another outing in Baxter, we were in a canoe on Kidney Pond when we spotted a moose feeding in water. Most of the time it was completely submerged except when it raised its large head out of the water to chew the vegetation it had pulled from the bottom of the pond. Once, when its head was submerged, we boldly navigated closer to have a better look. And we paid for our daring, for as soon as we approached the spot where we had last seen the moose a huge swarm of until then invisible flies that had been drifting over the moose quickly shifted to engulf our canoe and we could not paddle fast enough to escape them. Perhaps the crack about the moose being dumb was a little premature.

Since those early encounters I have seen numerous moose in the wild; while hiking through the woods, but more often along the highways, particularly a stretch of US Highway 3, in New Hampshire just below the Canadian border known affectionately as “Moose Alley.” During the evening in the summer one can find people cruising the highway at dusk trying to spot moose who have come out of the woods once the traffic has died down. Now traffic is a relative term up there. Several minutes or longer can pass before one sees another car, usually a border patrol vehicle, or the occasional truck hauling pulpwood down from Québec. Otherwise it is pretty quiet up there on the roof of New Hampshire.

So it was this past weekend. We had not seen any moose in northern Maine as we drove up along the Carrabassett and Dead rivers to Coburn Gore and the Canadian frontier. Nor did we spot any as we cruised the back roads of Québec’s Eastern Townships despite the signs announcing their presence. But upon crossing back into the USA and New Hampshire in the early evening we spotted a moose standing in the middle of the road less than a mile from the border where we saw the familiar signs warning us to watch out for moose on the highway. Later than evening, as we were returning to the cottage in Maine, we spotted a large bull along the highway in Grafton Notch, not far from that earlier encounter.

How can one not be impressed by the sight of a large moose in the wild? I guess it’s possible. The story goes that Warren G. Harding, during the first ever visit by a American president to Alaska, yawned and barely masked his boredom during his first encounter with a moose. But then again, the only time he got excited in the natural world was when someone was cutting down trees and blowing things up. I am sure for him the only good moose was a dead one. For the rest of us though, a moose sighting is pretty exciting. I know it is for me. I prefer to encounter them in the woods, but a spotting along the roadside is good too. If you know where and when to go, there are enough moose up here to satisfy your desire to find them. Just remember that they don’t share our understanding of the rules of the road and the concept of yielding the right-of-way. Drive carefully and leave the moose for others to enjoy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Heeding the Call of the Loons

This past week, as we were organizing and packing for what has become our annual migration to the lake cottage in Maine, we took an evening off and watched the 1981 Oscar-winning film “On Golden Pond,” starring Henry Fonda in his memorable final film, Katherine Hepburn (amazingly their first film together), and Henry’s daughter Jane.

The loons have returned to Golden Pond and with them a crotchety old retired professor (Fonda) and his doting wife (Hepburn) who open their cottage just as they had done every summer since they were first married. They remove the dust covers from the furniture, gather wood for the fireplace, and settle into a routine of walking in the woods, canoeing around the “pond” - actually a fairly good size lake - following the resident loon family, and fishing for local trout, including mythic and equally gigantic rainbow trout known as “Walter.” At night they play Parcheesi and scan the newspaper for classified ads and the baseball scores. All and all a pretty bucolic existence, only this time they are dealing with a whole new set of challenges as they try to come to terms with the fact that their lives together are coming to an end. Hepburn is a feisty yet gentle woman who does what she can to staunch the inevitable.”Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor,” she chortles in his ear as she wraps her arms around her husband. “Don't you forget it. You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!" Fonda, who realizes only too well what is happening to him, humors his wife. "I don't like horses,” he confesses as he kisses her cheek. “You are a pretty old dame aren't you? What are you doing with a dotty old son of a bitch like me?" Her response is perhaps the bellwether of her boundless devotion. "Well, I haven't the vaguest idea."

Watching the film my wife and I relished the fact that we would soon be back on our own golden pond, a lake cottage in Maine where we have spent the past 24 summers together. Most of those years were measured as two or three weeks in August when we managed to escape jobs and other commitments back home in Maryland. Last summer, the first since my retirement that spring, we headed north in mid-June and stayed until the end of August. We would have stayed longer, but our one and only child was getting married in early November and we had to get home to deal with that benchmark moment. As we packed up at the end of the summer we pledged that this year we would stay through September so that we could fully enjoy the splendor of the autumn foliage which was just beginning to flourish as we headed home. This year we plan to stay until early October.

I visited the lake briefly back in late January; a quick stop to check on the cottage to see how it was handling the winter. There was plenty of snow, enough that I was only able to view the cottage from the top of the hill as the rest of the access road had not been plowed. The lake was frozen solid, snow-covered and crisscrossed with snowmobile trails while smoke was rising from the ice-fishermen’s brightly colored bobhouses. It seemed hard to believe that just a few months earlier we were swimming in the lake, and in a very few months we would be back and swimming again!

And now we are here and we have unpacked and settled into our routine. The wood box is full, which is a good thing. The ice and snow may be gone yet the weather has been quite cool and wet since our arrival and it has been necessary to build fires in the morning and evening to fend off the cold and damp. But this has been a welcome respite from the 100+ temperatures we had endured at home the week before our departure).

We do not have to wait long to learn that our resident family of loons has also returned to the lake this year. Almost immediately we hear their plaintive yodeling, described by Sibley as a “tremolo of five to ten notes on an even pitch,” from the far end of the lake where they nest. I am reminded of Dan Masterson’s poem “Loon.”
We lie awake in dark
so black we swear
we’ve gone blind waiting
for your screech,
but no sound comes
until sleep takes us
long enough to be thrown
awake by the split-level
scream of the mad old lady
in your throat, lowered
there at birth, kept
for the nightly ritual
you tend to,
proclaiming this pond
as your own.
And this really is their home, after all. We both come to share this lake for a few months before we return home to a house in Maryland and they migrate to the open waters of the Atlantic where they will spend the winter months adrift. I am sure they are just as happy to be back as we are.

We have taken care of other routine tasks. We have been to the market to stock up the larder. We opened up our mailbox at the local post office. Unlike Fonda and Hepburn whose mail was delivered to their dock by a postal boat navigated by a local man who in his day had a definite hankering for their daughter, we must make our way by car to the post office in the Upper Village. We have also renewed our acquaintances with the gals who run the library in the Lower Village where we must go to connect with the internet and the outside world.

After typical summer days at home we are treated to a return to late spring weather. Those plants that bloomed weeks ago are still in full flower here and Sally Ann has planted some more.

We are enduring another round of tree pollen and the car and most of the deck furniture is covered with that yellow green menace. Summer activities begin at home around Memorial Day, but they don’t get into full swing here until Fourth of July with the exception being the ubiquitous strawberry festivals and socials celebrating this year’s harvest. We are definitely looking forward to these! The lake is still a bit chilly and not everyone has put in their piers yet. Ours is out and the boat and canoe are moored and awaiting our first outing.

So, all in all, life is pretty good and I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be. There will be plenty of time to do the things we want to do this summer and I will be reporting from time to time on what we are up to. In the meantime, we sit and listen to our loon friends who remind us why we keep coming back every year. If you were here right now, you would understand. I know Fonda and Hepburn would. I am quite sure of that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

War Stories

I had originally planned to post this on Memorial Day, but decided to save it until today, the 67th anniversary of th D-Day invasion of Fortress Europa.


“Dad? What did you do during the war?” I imagine I was like many young boys my age when they first learned that their fathers had served in the military during World War II. My father would occasionally share some of his stories although I was perhaps too young to understand just what he was telling me or how painful these memories might have been for him. All sons look up to their fathers as heros. I did. It was not that many years earlier that he and his buddies, following the massive D-Day invasion, were slogging their way across northern France in late 1944, slowly pushing the Germans back to their own border. Dad never really went into many details about the war, or exactly what he did, but there were a few stories and I still remember them as clearly as the day he told them to me. Perhaps the most vivid of these, the one that still stands out in my own recollections of my childhood, was Dad’s participation in the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive, the greatest land battle ever fought by the military forces of the United States between December 16, 1944 and January 25, 1945. This great battle halted the final Nazi juggernaut to defeat the Allies and turned the tide of war against the Germans who would surrender just six months later.

I wrote briefly about Dad’s wartime service shortly after his death, in October 2009. He had served in the104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry (Yankee) Division in General George Patton’s Third Army during the northern European campaign, in 1944-1945. During my recent spring sojourn in Florida I visited Dad’s grave for the first time since his memorial service at the Florida National Cemetery the previous spring. It was my first opportunity to see the inscription on the marble tablet marking the niche containing his ashes. It was then and there that I learned for the first time, and much to my complete surprise, that Dad had received the Bronze Star, the fourth highest decoration awarded for distinguished, heroic or meritorious achievement or service in combat. He really was a hero even if not that many people knew it.

A few days later my wife and I visited with one of just a handful of surviving members of Dad’s unit. I first learned about Harry a few years ago when I was doing some online research on the Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and Luxembourg. I came across a photo essay on the area by a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge who had returned to visit the places he knew from the war. Many of the places and events he described seemed very similar to the ones my Dad had told me about when I was a kid. I called Dad up and asked him whether he knew the guy who had posted the photos. “Why sure,” he said.” Harry was one of my closest buddies during the war.” They had not seen each other since the early days of 1945, in the immediate wake of the battle, and, as it turned out, they lived only a few miles apart in Florida. Dad gave Harry a call and over the next few months they renewed their old friendship. Harry and I also exchanged occasional notes and we planned to meet one day when my travels took me to Florida. I regret that I was not able to meet with Harry when Dad was still alive, but over our recent lunch I told Harry what I knew of Dad’s wartime exploits and Harry was able to fill me in on many more details. He answered a lot of questions I had about that chapter of my Dad’s life.


Dad was drafted into the US Army on April 3, 1943, just a couple months shy of his 19th birthday. He left his native Michigan and did his basic training at Fort Jackson, in Columbia, South Carolina, where he was eventually assigned to the 104th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry (Yankee) Division. He underwent training there , at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and participated in the Second Army’s maneuvers in Tennessee the winter of 1943/1944. Shortly thereafter Dad and Harry were both assigned to the regimental band at Fort Jackson. As Harry told me, the band was formed in early April 1944. It was originally established as a drum and bugle corps and the men were issued plastic bugles. Later they all sent home for their own instruments and became a band. Dad played the bass drum and Harry played the trumpet. The army’s table of organization had no provision for a regimental band (they were only authorized at the divisional level), but the regimental commander wanted a band “and by God he got one.” Tearing up a little, Harry told me that most of them, including himself and Dad, would not have survived the war had they not been plucked from their rifle companies and transferred to the band. Maybe so, but they saw combat once they arrived in Europe. There was plenty of death and destruction, but the band played on.

They finally left Fort Jackson, in August 1944, upon completion of basic combat training, and from there Dad and his unit were sent to the huge Camp Shanks - Last Stop USA” - in New York’s Hudson Valley. It was time to go to war. Dad would serve until his discharge in early January 1946 and he and Harry and their buddies would grow up fast in those years of hardship not knowing if they would survive. A lot of the brave men who went to war never came home. Dad and Harry were lucky.

The Yankee Division was originally formed out of Massachusetts National Guard units for service in World War I as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It has had a long and distinguished history. In World War I, its 104th Infantry Regiment became the first US Army regiment to receive the fourragère of the French Croix de Guerre after showing “fortitude et courage” in repelling a German attack at Aprémont on April 10-13, 1918. These words have been the regiment’s motto ever since.

After Camp Shanks the division embarked from Fort Miles Standish, at Boston, in late August 1944. It crossed the Atlantic on the SS Argentina, an old Moore-McCormack passenger liner built in 1924 to accommodate 750 passengers. As a troop ship plying the North Atlantic between 1942 and 1945, it carried almost 5000 fully armed troops on board as it transported the division directly to Cherbourg, France where it landed on September 7, 1944, some three months after D-Day. The division was attached to III Corps, Ninth Army at the Valognes staging area where it underwent extensive combat training and was assigned to local security duties along the Cherbourg peninsula and the Normandy beachheads used on D-Day.

Following this training the 26th Infantry Division was assigned in October 1944 to XII Corps in General George Patton’s Third Army which had been deployed to France after D-Day to support the Allied offensive. Third Army moved so quickly across northern France that it soon out distanced its supply line and had to slow down its advance. The division departed Normandy for the Third Army operational in the Lorraine region in northeastern France, the same area where it had served with distinction in World War I. There it took up a defensive position on Third Army’s right flank, relieving the 4th Armored Division near Salonnes. The 104th Infantry Regiment had its baptism of fire in an action against the German 11th Panzer Division in the Moncourt Woods, northwest of Bezange-la- Petite, in late October. This si where their training paid off as these green soldiers went up against a seasoned German division.

During the first week of November, Third Army prepared to launch a large-scale offensive along the front near the German border. The first major offensive action by the 26th Infantry Division was against German positions in and around Moyenvic and Vic-sur-Seille on November 8. The 104th Regiment advanced on the left flank toward Hampont and the Houbange Woods, and it captured Bennestroft two days later. The regiment proved it was up to the task assigned to it and it added a second regimental Croix de Guerre to its colors for service at Vic-sur-Seille.

The division continued to advance on Saar-Union in late November and into early December with the 104th Regiment crossing the Canal du Rhin au Marne on December 1. Just a few days later the regiment reached the Maginot Line, a system of concrete fortifications constructed by the French near the border with Germany after World War I. Thereafter the regiment regrouped and conducted mopping up actions in le Grand Bois before launching an attack against heavy German resistance at the Maginot Line near Kalhausen as part of Third Army’s assault on the Saar River basin and Germany. The 26th Infantry Division was relieved by the 87th Infantry Division in XII Corps sector on December 10, the day the rest of Third Army crossed into Germany. It was reassigned to III Corps and transported to a rear area near Metz for some much needed R&R.

But there was no rest for the weary. During the early morning hours of December 16, the Germans launched a surprise major counteroffensive through the Ardennes of Luxembourg and eastern Belgium in a last ditch effort to divide American and British forces advancing toward Germany. The Germans quickly advanced westward creating a large “bulge” in the Allied lines while never actually breaking out. Third Army was forced to suspend its offensive in the Saar Basin and reposition its forces in order to address the new German offensive. All units of Third Army would be thrown against the southern shoulder of the bulge. III Corps, including the 26th Infantry Division, was transported from Metz to the vicinity of Arlon, in southeastern Belgium, on December 19. The division found itself at Eischen, Luxembourg on December 21.

III Corps launched an assault northward through western Luxembourg the following day to help relieve American forces under siege at Bastogne, Belgium. Not knowing for certain where it would encounter the German salient, the 26th Infantry Division, with the 104th on its right flank, first encountered German resistance near Rambrouch some 16 miles north Arlon and Eischen. By December 23 the 104th was advancing through the hills and gorges of the Ardennes toward the Sûre (Saar) River north of Grobus where the Germans had counterattacked. III Corps met heavy Germany resistance throughout December 24 and Christmas day as it continued to advance northward. There was intense combat on Christmas morning in Eschdorf which fell to the 104th on December 26. Still on the division’s right flank, the 104th then moved up to Esch-sur-Sûre to establish important bridgeheads over the Sûre on the 27th. While the 104th secured the bridgehead, the remainder of the division continued its northward advance on the Wiltz River, in northern Luxembourg, in the closing days of 1944 in an effort to break the German siege of Bastogne. Dad and his unit remained in Esc-sur-Sûre for several day securing the regimental headquarters in the Hotel Ardennes. It was here that he won his Bronze Star.

By early January 1945 III Corps and the 26th Infantry Division had reached a virtual standstill just south of the Wiltz River. Heavy snow and German resistance stalled the drive to reinforce American forces that had finally broken the siege of Bastogne. The 104th was positioned north of Nothum and on the high ground above the river in the vicinity of Mon Schumann. The division would remained in this general vicinity until January 20 when the German offensive had all but collapsed. The division finally crossed the river on January 21 and secured the town of Wiltz. By January 25 the German offensive in the bulge was over and Third Army resumed its eastward advance from northern Luxembourg.

The 26th Infantry Division was transferred from III Corps to XX Corp in western France. The 104th, which had been held in reserve, departed Niederwiltz on January 27 and was sent to Boulay, in northeastern France. It was the first element of the division to arrive back in the same area of the Saar Basin where it fought back in November and early December. Never able to enjoy their relief from front line action, the division was sent to relieve the 95th Infantry Division and was on the right flank of Third Army near Saarlautern as it again entered Germany for the second time. The 26th Infantry Division had finally made it to Germany and it would not leave until the job was done.

The division’s regiments took turns securing the bridgeheads over the Saar until early March 1945 when it resumed the offensive in the vicinity of Saarburg. Third Army was already well on its way to the Rhine River and the heartland of Germany. The division continued eastward in mid-March as it met scattered yet heavy resistance as it moved ever closer to the Rhine. By March 21 Third Army was preparing to cross the river.

The 26th Infantry Division passed to XII Corps and on March 23 the 104th was the first of the division’s regiments to cross the Rhine at Oppenheim, south of Mainz, where it was supporting the 4th Armored Division, the same division it relieved when it first entered combat in Lorraine the previous October. German resistance diminished and the division advanced quickly south of Frankfurt to the bridgeheads over the Main River east of that city, reaching Fulda some 60 miles to the northeast by April 1. From there the division moved southeast with the 104th in reserve conducting mopping up operations near Meiningen and Suhl. On April 15 the entire division was approximately 10 miles from the Czechoslovakian border where it advance was intentionally halted.

XII Corps, including the 26th Infantry Division, was tasked with the pacification of eastern Bavaria, and it quickly advanced southward toward the Danube River and the Austro-German border near Passau. The division moved into Austria in early May and elements of the division took Linz on May 4. On the following day divisional units overran the Gusen concentration camp, part of the Mauthausen camp complex, east of Linz, and on May 6 it continued north into Czechoslovakia. Third Army had moved farther east than any other American unit in the European theater.

Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7 and hostilities officially ended on May 9. The following day elements of the 104th Infantry Division made contact withe advanced elements of the Soviet Red Army in the vicinity of Ceske-Budejovice, Czechoslovakia. Since the autumn of 1944 the 26th Infantry Division had been in combat for 210 days; the 104th for 177 days. But the war was not over; the 26th with the 104th returned to the area around Linz to train for eventual deployment in the Pacific. Luckily the war ended there before they had to go and finish the work it began in the forest and hills of north eastern France almost a year earlier.


When I was attending university in Germany in 1971-1972 I had an opportunity to visit some of the areas where the Yankee Division and the 104th Infantry regiment had served. During the war Dad had plotted the movements of his unit on various maps he had found along the way. He had also kept a small journal in his boot and I had all of these with me during my time in Europe. I spent quite a bit of time in the area of northeastern France, visited the Moncourt Woods where Dad first saw combat, and then traveled throughout the Ardennes looking for the various places Dad had told me about. Recalling some of the more vivid stories Dad had told me about his time in Esch-sur-Sûre, I visited the town several times. On one visit I managed to identify the house in the rue de l’eglise where Dad and his buddies bunked. I knocked on the door to discover that the family to whom the house belonged during the war, still lived there and they gave me a tour and invited me to stay for coffee and cake. Later that evening I had dinner at the Hotel Ardennes. When I told the waiter why I was there, he brought me a bottle of wine and my entire dinner was on the house. The American liberators were still looked upon as heros. And so were their sons. I can’t think of a time I was prouder to be an American.

It was a real treat to finally meet Harry. While Dad never really involved himself in veteran affairs and unit reunions after the war, Harry jumped in with both feet and even today he works hard to make sure younger generations never forget what he and Dad and so many like them did to preserve our way of life in this country. We remember and salute them all.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Past Is Not Just A Good-Bye

I was recently walking past the National Archives building in downtown Washington, DC when I stopped to reconsider the inscriptions found below the imposing statues designed by Robert I. Aitken and carved by the Piccirilli Brothers Company. I am especially drawn to the two that have flanked the entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue since 1935. One calls on us to “Study the Past” while the other announces “What is Past is Prologue,” a line inspired by William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Both of these inscriptions have stuck with me over the decades I conducted research here. There are two similar statues on the Constitution Avenue side of the building, and one of these offers another appropriate inscription. "The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future."

Indeed, we all have a history which colors how we view and interpret our present circumstances while anticipating what the future might bring. It has been noted by others that much of the instability and recklessness in the present is due, at least in part, to the fact that we have not come to terms with what we have experienced yet failed to learn from in the past. We do not have a whole sense of who we are and why. We do not seem to learn from our mistakes. Many are too impatient to strike out into the future not knowing what it holds. Why are we in such a hurry? Maybe we should stick around and smell the roses for awhile.

One of the reason I post these blogs is to come to terms with various aspects of my own past. I really do want to know who I am and why. How did I get here? Why do I have the values I have? I am curious about the future, but I am just as happy to revel in the past and enjoy each day for what it has to offer. The future will get here soon enough.

Leaving the National Archives I walked across the street and went down into a Metro station serving Washington, DC’s subway system. I took a seat facing the rear of the car. I was not so interested in staring at the backs of heads of others who are plunging faceless into the future. I would rather look into the faces of those who look to the future yet are still in my immediate past. I am not turning my back on the future, but the past speaks to us in profound ways and should not be ignored nor neglected.