From the desk of the Soul Stealing Ginger
From the desk of the Soul Stealing Ginger
October 20th, 2013
In the mid-20th century, American feminists were rebranding labels. One such was label was to replace the English-UK usage of "gender", with "sex". My favorite Winston Churchill quote comes from when he was asked his "opinion on sex". He quickly and famously quipped himself into the pages of feminist history when he replied "Sex…I enjoy it immensely".
Mr. Churchill had lost everything in the years leading up to the Battle of Britain -- his position in government, the British people had written him off as an alarmist crank. But through those years in the political wilderness, he never did give up. When he was proven correct by the unfolding events of the late 1930s. when the nascent lights of democracy were going out all over Europe and things looked utterly hopeless for the British Isles in the face of the Hitler's Luftkrieg, Winston codified that with his line that has graced everything from clothing likes to the walls of corporate board rooms since -- "Never, never, never give up." and "If you're going through hell, keep going."
If I had to pick a single historical figure to share a quart of Scotch whiskey over breakfast, it would be Winston Churchill.
His line about going through hell has been close to the top of my mind a great deal the last five years. (Well, honestly, the sex quote has been there also, for entirely the same reasons) Because of his unwavering tenacity, because of his willingness to be right in the face of ridicule, because of his amazing personal courage, a few short years later, the unsinkable aircraft carrier of England launched our first picture of this blost:
It's a famous picture taken by a Coast Guard Coxswain on the morning of June 6th, 1944 at Normandy. Somewhere in the late 1990's someone wrapped it in one of those annoying corporate motivational frames and put a caption on it. It has circulated the internet annually ever since.
Those corporate motivational pics usually suck, and usually the only ones that don't make me feel a bit like vomiting come from despair.com, but this one always hits me on a personal level. I'm not sure if the picture was taken at Omaha or Utah beach. I don't know if the Landing Craft Utility (LCU) was carrying men of the 1st, 4th or 29th Division. I don't know if one of those small dots is one of my good friends, both now deceased, 2LT (later LTC) John Seddon or 2LT (later COL) Jim Wright.
Some of those dots might be the fathers of the the kids I grew up with on any number of Army housing areas who were involved in that action. Growing up on Army bases allowed me to cross paths with the offspring of -- and occasionally the actual person of -- luminaries like Halsey, Patton, Abrams, Westmorland, et al. It also let me meet dozens of the countless dots, who may or may not be in this picture, that thirty years later would be "my friends dad, from down the street". Just nameless NCOs that had "gone anyway", who had charged up that beach when they were scared eighteen year old Privates.
About a hundred thousand Americans from the US First Army landed that day, every single one terrified that they wouldn't see June 7th, 1944. But land they did. And they kicked the door to Fortress Europe wide open. Some twelve thousand of those terrified men had their lives extinguished or irreparably altered. But they went anyway, and in doing so, they saved ten million(-ish) slated for death in concentration camps, freed tens of millions of more from the oppressive boot of tyranny, and restored popular rule to much of the civilized world. To borrow from Winston once again, it truly was their "finest hour."
As a kid, meeting these sorts of men didn't mean much to me. Everyone was like that, I didn't realize until I was much older how special my neighbors were. If someone told me that they were at Omaha beach, elementary school me might have responded "Oh, I like going to the beach too!", but soak up the culture I did. Quitting is not an option. Scared is no reason not to forge ahead. Hell, if you aren't scared, you probably aren't actually trying to do anything of any import.
So today, when I took the mini-not-me to a birthday party at the LazerTag place, I wasn't shocked or surprised that he was scared to go from the dark party room with strange trippy lights into the dark LazerTag room with strange triply lights, loud music and toy guns. I wasn't shocked or surprised, I was pissed off. You just don't do that.
Even worse, this was the second LazerTag party where the mini-not-me had thrown a temper tantrum at the thought of entering the field of play battle with harmless laser pointers, funky music and interesting geometric shape formations for cover.
In September, at Jaden's party, I let it slide a bit. I made some allowances for his ASD diagnosis, some allowances for his age of seven years, even for some allowances for the volume of the music, though to be honest, the volume with which the mini-not-me blasts Katy Perry and Maroon 5 makes me question my judgement about his ability to withstand cranking it up to eleven. When the invitation for Trentons party at the same place arrived, I explained to him that it was a LazerTag party, and if he wanted to go, he should participate. To not do so would be rude to his host. It would be inconsiderate to his hosts parents, who had prepaid for his gaming. I explained that if he wanted to go, he needed to realize that he should participate, or gracefully thank them and then bow out.
My rule in life is that I will always try everything three times. The first will get me over any shock feelings, the second will let me get a feeling of comfort with it, the third will let me evaluate if I truly like it. But he is seven, all I asked was that he join the other fifteen excited seven year olds and try to play LazerTag a single time.
He ate pizza. He played tag in the blacklight room. He danced with chem-lights and gorged on cake. He even got in the Zombie shattered bus and pretended to drive it while staging with all the other kids for the game. But when the time came to put on a vest and chase each other around, he threw a temper tantrum. He refused to play LazerTag.
This time, I did not let him leave. I felt like the worlds worst father ever, but I made him sit there on the bus, as the group of five year old girls staged for the next game, so that he could wish "happy birthday" to the Trenton and say goodbye to all the other seven year olds who were happily playing.
I took the time to explain that when he agreed to attend the party, he had made a commitment. He knew it was a LazerTag party, and that LazerTag would be played. If he wasn't into it, he should have said "No" on the RSVP.
While discussing it with him, I discovered that his mother had told him that he would "get shot" playing LazerTag and it was a dangerous game where he could die. She has made her own adult decisions to retreat into the comfort and security of her neurosis, but that she would feed that to a seven year old somewhat enraged me.
Perhaps it was the infantry-esque style of the game that put me of the mindset, but I started thinking about people that had made a commitment and either stuck to it, or not, and the attendant consequences. And I started thinking of ways to explain that to a seven year old. I have no good answers, but in a few years, he might read this and grasp the idea.
That brings us to our second picture. As far as I know, until the United States Postal Service was as broke as a used up crack whore giving ten dollar hand jobs in the bus station restroom, circa 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/us/postal-service-will-begin-honoring-living-people-on-stamps.html?_r=0), they never allowed a living person on a stamp. The only time they made an accidental exception was with my father, CPL (later COL) John Zitzelberger Sr., and Technical Sergeant Justice Moorse (first file in the picture, now deceased), of the 31st Infantry Regiment Medical Company, on the 1985 issue of the Korean War commemorative $0.22 stamp, with dead bodies snow-washed out to protect the delicate sensibilities of the mailing public:
That is a heavy burden to put on an eighteen year old. He could have given up. He could have laid down in the snow and let the -100F temperature and wind and snow ease his suffering, quickly. He could have surrendered, knowing that years of discomfort and privation awaited, but knowing, eventually, he would be repatriated. But he did not. Nor did the other 106 men that walked out of the X corps rear guard. Yes, they got their asses kicked. Badly. But they never gave up. They never quit.
Because they honored their commitments, though it cost 4,294 of them their lives, or limbs and freedom, some 26,000 Marines of the first Marine Division were able to retreat to safety in Hamhung harbor and the bosom of the US Navy, the PLA offensive was stopped completely and most of the PLA units involved in that action were never reconstituted. Today, fifty million South Koreans owe over a half a century of freedom from oppression to these men, and soldiers like them of the Eighth Army, on the west side of the Tabuks in the Iron Triangle.
But that brings to mind the question…what happens when it goes the other way? What happens when people just give up. The third and last picture is a sad one, it shows that when we let people down, when we don't honor our commitments, often, we are not the ones that bear the consequences, others carry that weight for us.
Here we see US Marine embassy guards in Saigon on April 30th, 1975 beating desperate South Vietnamese off the walls and away from the Frequent Wind helicopters that would allow them to live to see May 1st, 1975. These people had worked for and supported the Americans for years, as such, their lives were forfeit to the invading NVA. But a US Congress. backed by a distant, tired, and apathetic American people, had refused, despite all promises, to assist a friend and ally when they were invaded after the Paris Peace Accords. In failing to honor the commitment we made to those people, we condemned at least a million to a quick and brutal death. Millions more would die in purges in Vietnam and its neighboring Cambodia because of that betrayal.
Through my life, I've leaned on the "When you find yourself walking through hell, keep going." Giving up has never been an option, no matter how attractive it might be, no matter how comforting and easy it might be to do so. I learned it by osmosis from veterans of some of the largest and toughest battles in the history of humanity. That lesson, though it cost me nothing to learn, has served me very well -- especially in the last five years as the (now thankfully) ex-wife embraced Jesus and neurosis -- surely without it, I would have lain in the cold snow of marital bliss and welcomed the numbness of its embrace as it froze the life out of every essential bit of me that existed.
Winston Churchill learned that at the Harrow School while a pitiful student in the 1880's. Those lessons on that archaic football field and in those scholarly halls where he fared so poorly served hundreds of millions of the twentieth century well.
But how do I teach it to a seven year old today? I have no William F. Halsey III, no George S. Patton III in the neighborhood that I can introduce him to.
I am flummoxed. His mother insists on scaring him, at every turn, about everything. What can I possibly do to instill a sense in him that he should take that turn anyway? That he should forge ahead? Damn the torpedoes, kid, embrace childhood!
Winston, I need your advice and guidance now, would that you were here. I want to pick your brain over eggs Benedict and twenty year old Scotch. I need you to tell me, how do I teach a seven year old not to quit?