11.8.15

I went to look them up but they were all gone. They are all gone.

They are all gone.



A few years back I wrote about some of the research I did on my grandfather and his life. One of the people I interviewed was another member of Company K in the 23rd Marines, Wilbert Hager. As the story goes, I got reconnected with those who served under company commander Captain Paul E. Smith (my grandfather) and got a mailing list, only to find that Wilbert lived literally walking distance from my office at the time. I drove over on a hot August afternoon and spent an hour talking with him, about the war and not just the remembrances of his CO but also all of his memories of war. The Fourth Marines - first in action - Roi Namur, Tinian, Saipan and Iwo Jima - he kept mentioning that. Sadly, I discovered that Wilbert passed away a couple years ago.  When I'd mentioned awhile back to other members of the company that I spoke with Wilbert, they'd told me he'd been sick and unable to attend previous reunions (this was a month after I met him). He seemed in good health when I'd met him and neither of us really wanted to bring up his health.

I recently found more photos graphs of my family including multiple albums of my grandfather's time in the military. I recognized the face of Felix Buvens, another office who served with my grandfather but was killed with many other Marines in Iwo Jima, before he ever got the time to meet his daughter Anne (a wonderful woman I spoke with on the phone). In Anne's emails, she referred me to another soldier, Wilford Overgaard. I'd not thought to look him up until last week when my mother and I found the boxes. Sadly, I found the same result - Wil had died, and just this spring. Another true hero from the great war of our grandfathers.

I don't get letters about reunions anymore. My mother and I tried hard, but work obligations kept us from traveling to the last reunion we heard about a couple years ago in Tennessee. They are all gone now. All those soldiers. Those who died in battle, like Felix, and those who lived with the torment and eternal heroism of our freedom, they are reunited once again.

As a genealogist, I've run into road blocks. Rule one of genealogy - Start Today. You never know when someone will be gone or a document will be destroyed (like much of the Marines, Army and Air Force records of WWII which were destroyed in a fire in 1973.)


We found my grandfather's two bronze stars and his purple heart while going through a shed and my mother reminded me that those incidents were with him the rest of his life. No man should endure war like that and no leader should ever put our bravest Americans in such a conflict without just reason. Such was the case in World War II when our country was attacked and we arose like a sleeping giant to become the most powerful nation in the world - built on the backs of our soldiers, our laborers and our leaders. These men didn't ask to be put into war; it just happened at a time that they happened to be born. The courage and valor of their actions, is eternal. Unfortunately, the voices that carried that history are not eternal. There's not many left from that generation. It's time now to ask them about it and to listen to their answers. Listen to the way they delivery their answers. That is what will be lost when they are gone. Even words can be recorded, but not the way they are said as it comes from their minds. I have albums full of photos of unidentified accidental heroes - never to be identified. 


I don't think my grandfather liked having his image used to recruit Marines or contribute to the war effort. Maybe, much like John Basilone, he thought his contribution was with the troops he served with, or perhaps he just wanted to distance himself from war. Earning a PhD, teaching students for 30 years of his life and working in farming and agronomy - that's probably more how he wanted to be remembered - that and being a husband and father (to my mother). But his stories and the stories of those who served with him should be told - as lessons - lessons in courage, lessons in action. Lessons in the value of war and in life and in country.

My grandfather barely made it back from Saipan alive. My mother told me the story how they chose the "most expendable" man to take him back to the hospital boat (from the photo above). As they went back to the boat, they slipped and fell down a ridge moments before Japanese soldiers opened fire on it. Had the man, who is nameless, who's name I'll never know, hadn't slipped - there would be no me - no children of mine and no mother of me. Fate changed in one misstep. I wonder how many other tens of thousands of soldiers have stories like this? Where the heroism of their lives was just as important as surviving to contain their families. 

There's one last man I can contact - Major Everett (Bud) Hampton. He served with my grandfather. We spoke before a bit. I do know that he is alive still down in North Carolina or Virginia. I think I will call him this week, try to send him some of the photos I found.

Soon they will all be gone. Those brave men who were born at the wrong time, or, at the right time, to serve our country in one of the many ways that has made is special. 

20.7.15

Where I come from - Entitlement

Recently listening to Politinerds interview of Greg Gutfeld, I thought of the importance of the first question asked by moderators Doug Mataconis and Jazz Shaw. "Tell us about where you come from." The point being made by the hosts of the podcast was, where you come from creates a lot of your views, as was the case with Greg Gutfeld and his upbringing in San Mateo, California and university years at California-Berkeley. While Greg grew up in "liberal" San Mateo and went to ultra-liberal UC-Berkeley, he ended up being a libertarian-leaning voice in politics. Gutfeld was also raised Catholic and is now an "agnostic atheist".

"I became a conservative by being around liberals (at UC Berkeley) and I became a libertarian by being around conservatives. You realize that there's something distinctly in common between the two groups, the left and the right; the worst part of each of them is the moralizing."

Where I came from influenced me in a similar way, although much in the opposite direction of the political spectrum. The town where I grew up, Madison, Connecticut, is arguably one of the wealthiest towns in a very wealthy state (outside of Fairfield County, at least). Family ties to town, wealth (or the appearance of wealth) were important for getting ahead social AND, at least when I was growing up, getting ahead in general. The other part of the story was growing up poor (relatively, of course). I grew up with a single mom who only worked full time once my sister and I were in school full time and had a job that paid very near minimum wage, serving lunch to many of the town's elite. I grew up working in "high class" restaurants like the prestigious Madison Beach Club and the former Cafe Lafayette (now Cafe Allegra), restaurants my family could not eat at because they were not club members or couldn't afford the price of dinner. Not everyone in Madison was wealthy, but most everyone had more than we did. We had a car (which was necessary in Madison due to its complete lack of public transportation) but for much of my childhood we had a car that could drive only 20 miles or so before it overheated or broke down. Many of our meals were discarded food from the restaurant where my mother worked. We didn't own a home - we rented - so our house was always open to inspection by the homeowners. In middle school, I remember avoiding the beach during the summer because I didn't own a bathing suit and only had a couple pairs of shorts - when they were dirty, I stopped going to the beach until we could afford to the grocery store to buy laundry detergent.

Other children who were my peers lived a fairly "normal" childhood - they had food on their plate. They only went skiing two or three times a winter on top of a summer vacation.  And being in a wealthy town, even those who were not wealthy, made sure that you knew about their excursions and purchases. As un-normal as this sounds to most readers, this was the normal I grew up with. It took awhile into my adulthood to realize that not everyone was so "entitled".

Yes, this influenced my view of entitlement. The word entitlement (in a political sense) brings about images of welfare, EBT and food stamps, medicare and government programs. My view of entitlement also includes "anything that you were given as a child", "anything you have that you did not buy" and "anything you inherited". Yes, inheritance is an entitlement - because it's not earned. I lived in a very wealthy town, despite being a Republican-outpost in a state awash in blue, I was "entitled" to a very good public education. But here's where I differ with many others. I was just as entitled to that education as any other student who attended those schools, regardless of the wealth of their families or parents. I did as much to "earn" it as anyone - which was nothing. The luck of who your parents are is the only reason you grew up where you did. Luck. Luck created entitlement. Americans do nothing to earn citizenship, unlike Swiss or Israeli citizens, they were just born here. Luck. This is how my view has shaped on this and other issues of entitlement.

Kids I grew up with did not do much to earn so much. I think many realized as they got older that they did live in a bit of a fantasy-world growing up. Some didn't. On social media I find it funny that so many of the wealthy kids I grew up with are now adults who are so right-wing economically - when they grew up with 18 years or so of complete entitlement in wealth and in name and status. But I guess where you grow up helps determine your views.

Status and name, whatever the label is, became as important as wealth. I got passed over for scholarships, places on athletic teams and learning opportunities because my name was nothing in town. Had I grown up five towns over where many of the athletic banners have my last name from my uncles, father and grandfather, I probably would have gotten the same unfair advantages that many in my town did. When I was in college as a "super senior", I took the baseball class with UConn baseball coach Andy Baylock. Working in the indoor cages, Baylock was watching me pitch to a kid who wanted to walk on as a catcher on the baseball team and Baylock, watching me throw, asked where I was recruited to play in college. I said I didn't even play in high school, never had the chance (even if I'd gotten on the baseball team, my mother was working full time at that point so I had no way to get home from school but to walk 4 miles back or 7 miles when in middle school). I wanted to show Baylock something he'd remember, so the next pitch I threw a splitter to the catcher that broke as much as I could make the pitch break. Baylock told me to check my availability. But it was too late for me.

I don't feel as bad as I did when I was younger about where I grew up, but with age I've become more aware of how mistreated I was as a child in my town - how I had random entitlement (parental wealth and social status) thrown in my face daily and somehow survived. Especially in my middle school years, very few teachers or staff gave me a fair shake. I was labelled a bad kid - although I wasn't a bully or violent or destructive - no one should be labelled like that. I struggled to finish school work because it was either too easy for me or because I saw other kids getting more by doing less (that's the view of a middle schooler). Once in high school, I finally had a chance to feel less awkward due to some of the great programs in town (this is probably why I find value in individualized programs) but I also saw many adults and educators in town turned away from running programs because they didn't seem to be part of the clique in town - I'm intentionally being vague here as I don't wish to name the people involved but an example would be a program that was run by a teacher in school but was cancelled because that teacher (certainly not a member of the town elite) upset one parent by being "fair"... again, being vague here - that teacher's decision was completely correct but it upset the wrong person and thus the program was ended.

So that probably explains "entitlement" from my life-span view. What is really earned doesn't start with parents or their wealth or who they are or where you were born. None of that stuff is under any individual's control - so that is entitlement. So the next time you complain about something someone else "gets as a handout", remember the first 18 years of your life, your citizenship, your race - you earned none of that. It was just handed to you. Pure luck and entitlement.

Further reading on your age vs. your political leanings (New York Times).  (allows user to make some interesting assertions about people voting in their best interest)

I see some rich guy's house with a sprinkler system
and I know that guy has just played the system
the myth that hard work is all it takes
while our soldiers in Afghanistan are in the sun and bake
they are working for a dollar harder than you'll ever know
keep telling us how hard you work and my head will blow
my mom working for something near minimum wage
you think this is something that explains my rage?
two kids at home, how's she supposed to go to school
it takes just much luck to get ahead you fool

so keep voting to support the rich
cause your status in this country probably won't switch
I'm sure they'll give you a note of thanks
as they laugh at you all the way to the banks