Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thoughts On Memorial Day

There is a lot of racing and BBQ going on today. Well, I like racing and BBQ as well as the next guy but this day is more than that, it's supposed to be a day to remember the men who have lost their lives under the Red, White and Blue.

The first three wars our nation's soldiers, sailors and Marines fought were against folks who far outnumbered and outgunned us. The Brits of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 had us beat on everything but morale. And the forces under Presley O'Bannon and General Eaton were certainly outgunned, along with having about a thousand sword waving crazies to one.

Our fourth war, beside the constant war against the Indians* is the most problematical war in our history, again, beside the war against the Indians*.

Between the end of the Texas War of Independence of 1836 and 1846 the Mexican government pushed hard against the border of the Rio Grande. It is popular among historians and other academics to call the Mexican War a war of conquest and the big bully against the smaller Mexico. They, of course, being academics, look at today's United States of America against today's Estados Unitos de Mexico. It was a lot more even in 1846. And all, repeat ALL of the opening battles in that fight were on our side of the Rio Grande.

The real tragedy in that war was the San Patricos. A little known fact of the great potato famine of Ireland is that the first place nation where the Irish fled to was, of course, the United States of America. The second nation? Estados Unidas de Mexico. Mexico, being a Catholic country, gave the Irish a warmer welcome than we did, to our eternal shame. Still, a lot of Irish men joined the U. S. Army right off the boat, the Army being a steady job. Not much pay but at least they ate and had shoes and a shirt on their backs.

Still, the Irish soldiers of 1846 were treated very poorly in the Army. By the Civil War the Army had learned a lot but in that war the Irish got the worst jobs, the meanest quarters and, perhaps worst of all, were denied Catholic Chaplains.

So, at the beginning of the Mexican war an Irish Soldier deserted the US Army, one of many. He refused to fight against his fellow Catholics of Mexico, he went so far as to join the Mexican Army and formed the San Patrico Battalion. This battalion, a force that ultimately numbered 600 men fought in many of the battles,ending it's life at the Battle of Churubusco.

After that fight the US Army went on an orgy of killing, whipping and branding of the captured survivors. Any survivor know or suspected to have deserted the US Army after the declaration of war was hanged, including Francis O'Conner who was already dying from having both legs removed. The hangings were carried out by putting the men in wagons, putting the noose around their necks and whipping the mules. Without enough drop to break their necks, the men strangled, slowly.

Contrast this with our next war the War of Southern Rebellion or, as they used to call it down here, the War of Northern Aggression.

The Band Played Dixie

As the Civil War (as if that was civil, ask the citizens of the Shenandoah Valley or Missouri.)became inevitable a whole slew of officers of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps resigned their commissions, along with a lot of enlisted men, to join up with the South. At West Point the southern Cadets who left to join the Confederacy did so at a morning parade, complete with all the other Cadets and the commissioned instructors. As the Cadets marched off the band played Dixie.

Six hundred thousand American dead later the war was over and slavery ended.

Memorial Day started as Decoration Day. It wasn't even the same day everywhere, it was just a day in the late spring when the people of the South went to the graveyards of the dead of that awful war and cleaned up the graves. They pulled the weeds, straightened the leaning headstones, planted and placed flowers and otherwise spruced the graveyards up.

We have had a lot of wars and a lot of dead since it was Decoration Day. And it's a damned shame so few of us remember why this day is this day. It's not the beer or the BBQ, nor the first big day at the lake or seashore. It's not the day you get to wear white shoes or go to the races. Today is the day to think of lonely, frightened men, mostly very young who, if they had time for last words it was usually "Momma".

It's still going on today. Rightly or wrongly, we have sent our young men, and now women, thousands of miles to fight. And they are dying. Not in near the numbers we did in my war, nor near the numbers of earlier wars. Still each death is a husband and father or a son, or now a mother and daughter. Unlike the days of the draft, most Americans do not know a Serviceman or Woman. This started in my war. The sons of the upper class and upper middle class went into the University and then found a doctor pal to claim a disability like Howard Dean's bad knee which miraculously healed up enough for him to go skiing for a few winters.

Today Washington doesn't care where they send our sons and daughters since the kids that are serving today aren't theirs. Today it's the kids of the south and Midwest serving, the lower middle class kids that somehow missed the indoctrination of the education bureaucracy. Give those "educators" a couple more generations, though, and we'll have no one left that knows how to fight.

*I refuse to call the tribes "native Americans because everyone born in this country is a native American. For that matter, everyone born in Central and South America is a native American.


pamibe said...

Great Memorial Day post and very educational!

Had no idea the Irish were treated so terribly and many actually joined the Mexicans!

vwbug said...

Great post.

Harvey said...

I can't get the image of a corned beef & cabbage burrito out of my head now.