1968 2.0…2020-2021

As 2020 ended I hoped for a brighter 2021…hoped the cockroaches with 2020 embossed on their backs would scurry for the safety of darkness as the bright sunlight of 2021 hit them.  Then visions of white supremacists and nationalist storming the Capital hit my TV screen and news feed on January 6.   People in red hats and animal skins carrying Confederate Battle Flags among many, made it surreal.  I couldn’t help but think about my earlier year of discontent, 1968. 

Most of us, I hope most of us, will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday January 18 this year. His life ended with an assassin’s bullet in 1968.  That same bullet triggered national unrest similar to what we saw this past summer. 

Despite being a proponent of nonviolent protest, King’s assassination prompted violent protests and riots in major cities across the US as news of his death led to anger and disillusionment, and feelings that now only violent resistance to white supremacy could be effective.

Known as the “Holy Week Uprising”, the riots and unrest began after the April 4th murder of King lasted well into the remainder of the year.  These uprising weren’t the first expression of unrest and would not be the last in 1968. 

Vietnam protests joined Civil Rights protests, walkouts, sit ins, hostage taking along with the riots that saw Chicago policemen in battle gear wading into crowds and beating Vietnam War protesters and news correspondents, This was during the 1968 Democratic Convention and played out during August on our television sets.

We weren’t alone in our discontent.  Social unrest seemed to grip the world.  Movements sprang up worldwide as protests were registered in over two dozen countries.  Here at home, in addition to our Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements,  Anti-nuclear movement, Environmental movement, Hippie movement, Women’s liberation movement, Chicano movement, and Red Power movements staged protests.  During the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two medalists raised their glove clad fist in a Black Power protest.  That was in October. 

Some historians believed 1968 saw the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War.  Of course, that was before 2020 and the beginning of 2021.  I don’t know what historians will believe about these, there is so much misinformation to sift through I doubt a consensus will be reached during the remainder of my lifetime.

I also wonder what Dr. King might think had he lived to be ninety-two.  Despite his own move toward greater militancy, I wonder if his influence would have made any difference in what continues to play out on my television. 

Our Capital is locked down. National Guards men are moving to the nation’s capital and sleeping in the building itself.  Buildings being boarded up.  Gunmen have been arrested attempting to breach what is known as the Red Zone…even using descriptors like Red Zone. My depression and anxiety are growing by the minute as the inauguration approaches.

Despite my anxiety, I find comfort and hope in Dr. King’s words.  Yes, I still believe in hope.  In 1964 he closed his Nobel acceptance speech, beginning his final paragraph, “Let me close by saying that I have the personal faith that mankind will somehow rise up to the occasion and give new directions to an age drifting rapidly to its doom. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.”

I have hope that his words will come true and that the reaction to what happened on January, 6, will prove to be an impetus for better days. 

***

Quote is from Dr. King’s Nobel acceptance speech.

His image from his “I have a dream” speech.

Much of my research came from experience but I used Wikipedia to fill in the gaps of my memory.

My own rantings and writings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1m9HXR3YH52tj33iUxPkzyf1PvTdt2BaXLwT3hka344adJ4sa6n3sIkr4

Pearl Harbor…Revisited…Again

I was nearly a decade away from even being a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, so I have no true remembrances of the “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. My remembrances come from listening to my father and his buddies talking, history books, documentaries, and movies.

My father, a single, twenty-five-year-old at the time, did what many patriotic young men did and with several friends headed to the Marine recruitment center to join up…only to find out he was 4F due to a birth defect he didn’t even know he had. Determined, he attempted to enlist in the Navy and Army but was turned down.

Two years later, the now-married twenty-Seven-year-old, would receive a letter that might have begun “Greetings, your friends and neighbors….” Drafting a married, twenty-seven year-old missing an entire row of ribs and vertebrae they attached to should tell you how dire the situation was in late 1943.

My Father, a mechanic, was eventually assigned to amphibious assault teams training in Carrabelle, Florida.  Later he would join MacArthur in time to assault the Philippines, Okinawa, and finally would step ashore on mainland Japan as a part of the occupation force.  I wish I knew more but his military records were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.

I remember sitting as a family in front of our black and white television on a Sunday evening, December 3, 1961. Walter Cronkite was the narrator of the CBS documentary program, The Twentieth Century. On this night, the Sunday prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, we sat as a family watching and listening.

The episode was “The Man Who Spied on Pearl Harbor” and Cronkite’s distinctive voice narrated the black and white action scenes, some made as the attack occurred, most staged for propaganda use during the war itself, as we remembered Pearl Harbor…and as I remember that night in 1961.

Over the years my thirst for knowledge about Pearl Harbor and my father’s war has caused me to read, watch or listen to almost every available documentary, book, movie, or interview about Pearl Harbor specifically and World War Two generally. Thankfully, I had access to the History Channel when it aired programs about history rather than programing about Alaskan truck drivers or pawn shops. I continue to remember Pearl Harbor, the men who lived it, died during the attack, the ships that were sunk, some later resurrected…and my father who was thousands of miles away at the time.

Many of my father’s friends served and I remember their visits. Stories told around a dining room table.  Older men, cigarette smoke swirling toward the ceiling, coffee left to get cold as they talked. Like many veterans of any wars their stories didn’t focus on death and violence but on humor and comradery. 

One story even involved my mother.  She did her patriotic duty working in a munitions plant.  If one of my father’s friends was to be believed, sitting in rain filled foxholes with artillery shells were being fired over their heads at unseen Japanese positions in the Philippines, one landed short and didn’t explode.  My somewhat taciturn father was quoted to have said, “That must have been one of Eldora’s.”

I have never outgrown my interest in World War Two movies seen repeatedly over again, especially those taking place in the Pacific Theater, the theater my father said he didn’t fight in.

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?”

“Son, I was so far away from the fighting the nurses went in before we did.” His admission did not deter my interest…or my pride.

My favorite movies and stories were those involving Pearl Harbor on the periphery, not quite the center stage like “Tora, Tora, Tora”. Instead, it was  Fred Zimmerman’s “From Here to Eternity”, John Ford’s “They Were Expendable”, and my absolute favorite, Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way”.

A line from “in Harm’s Way” has always stuck in my head.  It was uttered by Henry Fonda  portraying Admiral Chester Nimitz, “On the most exalted throne in the world, we are seated on nothing but our own arses.” Good words to remember whether at war or sitting in your recliner.

The featured image I used is a colorized picture of the iconic USS Arizona burning after the attack.  I met a survivor of the attack in the late Seventies.  A career Navy man he had “joined” up after the War to End All Wars as an eighteen-year-old and served for thirty years.  He served in dozens of Pacific stations from China to San Diego.  One of those ports was in Pearl Harbor on board the USS Arizona.

Among his many duties was manning an anti-aircraft gun should there be an attack.  He never got the opportunity.  Providence intervened that day.  Off duty, he met a friend ashore and watched helplessly as 1,177 of his shipmates and his ship were sent to glory.  Despite the life he was able to live…to create, he never quite forgave himself for surviving.

As I’ve gotten older and a bit of a peacenik, I find myself watching less the movies about the valor and courage of our fighting men and more about the periphery, the politics, our own cruelties…which are simply the cruelties of war itself.

I hope we continue to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and the generation characterized by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation”. We need to remember the sacrifices they made in our last righteous war before the concepts of good versus evil became so blurred during the Cold War and in the Middle East.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor, and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

“If I had known…”

If I had known last March it would be the last time I sat in a restaurant for nearly eight months, I would have ordered dessert.“ Unknown

I don’t know who is responsible for the quote, I just know it wasn’t me. I also know what I didn’t know then.  Despite all of the misinformation floating around, no truer words have been spoken.  When there is a next time, I will order dessert.

I didn’t buy the President’s spiel that COVID-19 would be over in the heat of summer, but I also didn’t buy I would be contemplating a Thanksgiving without friends and family…and then there is Christmas.

None of my aunt’s dressing and butterscotch pies.  None of my brother’s newest culinary creation or a cousin’s broccoli casserole.  None of Bob’s ham or turkey.  No visiting with the girl cousins who are more like sisters. At least I will have my bride’s tomato pies all to myself and will hear no one ask, “What about that election.”

No visit with Ashley, Justin, and the grands.  No tall tales, no hearty laughter, no catching up.  Instead I’ll burn up the phone lines, I guess., and maybe a Cornish hen on the grill. 

No post dinner nap while pretending to watch the Cowboys take it on the chin again.

Next time and until the Lord takes me home, I will always order dessert.

The date in early March eludes me.  I know it was before my brother’s birthday on the thirteenth because we didn’t celebrate it…or mine…or anyone else’s.   Maybe it was late February….

There have been few celebrations over the past seven months. I guess not being one of the two hundred and sixty some odd fatalities is celebration enough.  For some reason, my thought has a “hurray for me and the hell with everyone else” ring that is not intended.

I was at a BBQ joint with my bride on that day in February or March.  A large pulled pork BBQ sandwich with ‘yaller’ sauce, mayonnaise cabbage slaw, and a couple of orders of deeply fried, battered okra sat before me.

All were washed down with a Damn Yankee, Narragansett beer or three.  Maybe fifteen hundred calories…not counting the calories from cleaning up my bride’s plate…so the dessert was declined.  I will never allow that to happen again.  I will always order dessert. Maybe I’ll eat dessert first.

I’ve learned several things about myself as I’ve sat in my self-imposed isolation wishing for BBQ and dessert…wishing for Aunt Joyce’s dressing…wishing the kids were about….wishing for Thanksgiving celebrations.

I’ve learned I really do like being around my wife, otherwise we would have killed each other by now.  I realize the jury is still out from her perspective…and I’ve hidden all of the weapons just to make sure.

After seven months my hair still hasn’t grown long enough to put into a ponytail.   It is more of a ragged mullet. MacGyver would not covet it. Could be due to the absence of hair I began with.  I am going to keep trying.  Maybe I’ll start an “inverted Mohawk” ponytail/mullet movement for hippies in their seventies.

I have learned boredom is no motivation to getting things done. All those jobs that need to be completed, I can’t even get them started.  I just let more things go. ..more things that need to be done.

I haven’t even found new and more interesting ways to stay bored.  How many reruns of NCIS New Orleans or Star Trek The Next Generation can I watch? Is The Hallmark Channel next?

I’ve found rips to the grocery store to be scary, even double or triple masked up…considering the idiots ignoring masking rules along with the directional arrows.   It’s a political statement? Possibly more dangerous than a simultaneous four-way stop or the new traffic circle built next to Wally World in TR. I do have to eat but I’ll never use the traffic circle.

I’ve learned I’m not the hermit I thought I was.  I find myself chatting with frogs, snakes, turtles, ground squirrels, and birds…even the little snail that somehow found it’s way onto my shower curtain.  I don’t think he is listening. I would talk to my bride but then she might involve me in a conversation where she talks and I listen.

When the wildlife is not around, I talk to myself. Unfortunately, with cold weather ahead, the frogs, turtles, and snakes will be self-isolating and I’ve found I don’t make much sense even to myself.  Just ask the snail on the shower curtain…I think I may have talked him to death.

As I contemplate Thanksgiving, if I am fortunate to sit down at an indoor restaurant table again, I will order dessert….maybe two. 

If you are throwing caution to the wind and visiting family and friends this 2020 Thanksgiving, first of all, be careful, wear your mask and social distance. It is not a political statement, it is an intelligence statement.

Secondly, eat that extra bowl of banana puddin’ or German Chocolate cake.  Put an extra dab of cranberry salad on your turkey sandwich and maybe a wedge of dressing.  Enjoy the sweet potato casserole or pumpkin pie. Do it for me but if you have Bourbon pecan cheesecake…don’t tell me, it might break my heart. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

***

Don Miller writes in a variety of genres. He will release his newest historical novel, Long Ride to Paradise, after Thanksgiving, The tale takes place during the historical period known as Reconstruction.

Don’s authors page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1iraxbHHzYu2km-B4PsMVtsrBn9_NwN3OCmVKqxkn3Kq9qOpHWGOUhW9w.

The image is of Bourbon Pecan Cheesecake and I am drooling. Recipe at www.tastykitchen.com

Sunday September 15, 1963

Sunday September 15, 1963…I doubt I paid much attention to the happenings in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.  I probably paid more attention on Monday when Walter brought the CBS Nightly News as the family gathered around the black and white TV, chewing soggy TV dinner fried chicken and cardboard mac and cheese. 

I pay more attention now. The past can be painful. Ignoring the past can be moreso. Four young girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14, born April 18, 1949); Carol Denise McNair (age 11, born November 17, 1951); Carole Rosanond Robertson (age 14, born April 24, 1949); and Cynthia Dionne Wesley (age 14, born April 30, 1949), were killed in the attack as they attended Sunday school…Sunday school. Addie Mae’s sister, 12 year old Sarah, had twenty-one shards of glass embedded in her face. She was blinded in one eye. Fourteen others were injured and there was another death. Some nineteen or more casualties to the war that was Civil Rights.

1963: Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church
Sarah Collins recovering from the attack. Photograph by Dawoud Bey.

I do not know what I thought.  I do not know what my family thought.  We were not the types to sit around the dinner table discussing Civil Rights, race relations, and the deaths of four young girls in the city that became known as “Bombingham.” I honestly don’t know where my parents stood on racism and Civil Rights. Considering all possibilities I guess that is not a bad thing.

I don’t know for sure what my classmates thought during school that Monday morning. There was no discussion of the travesty that had occured in my eighth grade civics class…my all white class in my all white little school.

I was thirteen. Just about the ages of the girls killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  I wonder what I thought.  I am sure I was more concerned about the pennant race in the National League than four deaths in Alabama.  The Dodgers were battling it out with the Cardinals and held a one game lead.  On September sixteenth they would begin a series with the Dodgers one game up.  In the American League the Yankees had run away and hid in 1963.  I knew baseball standings, but I didn’t know the names of the girls now gone.

It is not that I was unfeeling, I was thirteen, probably an immature thirteen.  I was more concerned about baseball and the Playboy magazine I had snuck into my bedroom.  There was that little blond-haired girl that stirred feelings and reactions I simply did not understand.  Alabama was a place far, far away and the lives lost unknown to me.

Occasionally thoughts would enter my teenage mind.  “How is this right?”  I was not ready to go marching with Martin Luther King but images of burning buses, fire hoses, and now rubble were having an effect…a lasting effect.

My grandmother had taught the Golden Rule. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t treating these people the way we wished to be treated.  Why were people so angry and why did they all look like me? Why didn’t I have the guts to act?

I couldn’t understand the lack of empathy from friends either…as I can’t understand now.

The last of the three bombers died in prison this past June.  I will not speak his name. He was eighty-two.  He was not brought to justice until 2001…none were brought to justice in 1963, not because their identities were unknown, because of the system that was in place…a system that is still hanging on in many places.  The three freely lived their lives as if nothing had happened, one for thirty-seven years.  He lived freely thrice as long as the little girls whose lives he helped to take. 

I’m thankful I’m not the same person I was in 1963.  I was a child of the time and carried my racism with me well into my adulthood.  My change occurred over time, there was no sudden flipped switch.  It was the realization that what I saw and heard was at odds with what I had learned despite my grandmother’s best teachings.

I still have my moments.  I still carry my racism. Thoughts I wish I didn’t have, thoughts I pray forgiveness for.  I pray for understanding, pray for peace among all God’s children.  Prayers that don’t include forgetting but do include forgiveness.  Prayers for taking the first step toward healing which is the recognition and acceptance for our sins. 

Don Miller writes on various subjects that bothers him so. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0C336Kj_qD1fHk40ybRg8b7CHHd6f8KYcGIC44-qIqsbZJGjv0WdXaeKI