Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I made several attempts as the 60’s ended and ‘70’s began to enlist in the military. I had friends and associates dying in Vietnam. I had blown a knee out in high school and no matter how many times I tried to explain it away, they wouldn’t take me.

Ironically, during the same time, I was also turning against the war. And today I see how my outward drive to enlist belied how ambivalent I was inside. Funny thing about my wiring, I can’t stand sitting on a fence, so even when I’m conflicted I’m usually in motion.

But wiring is to my point…one of the things I’m looking forward to in my life after destination marketing…at least the part directly managing DMO’s, is writing some long postponed family histories.

I love history in general but researching my own background has given me insight into why some things seem in my wiring. People see me stand up for Durham, stand up against unfairness…even sounding much more combative at times than I meant too. People who know me though have always been able to sense the empathy that belies my more outward indefatigability (Bob Ashley’s term but I like it) in the face of issues.

I’ve never been anywhere near combat or served in the military. Nor was I exposed to it a lot growing up. But I must admit I find it throughout my background. My Father was in Europe in World War II and has all kinds of photos including some from the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. He wouldn’t talk about his time in Europe…only about how hard he worked to get home as soon as possible at the end of the War. Now that he’s gone I have a display case of all of his memorabilia. I keep it in honor of him but also because these items remind me of growing up and the sense of intrigue and “awe “ that came from going through these things…sometimes when my parents weren’t home along with how much I love and miss him.

I think he was down-low about a lot of stuff because he saw me play too much “cowboys and Indians” or “Blue and the Gray” and didn’t want to make it too real. And maybe because his best friend (the father of my best friend) had fought in both WWII and Korea and been a prisoner of war in both…although the latter was the subject of a lot of kidding between the two.

Maybe it was because my middle namesake uncle (really his cousin) and closest friend growing up was killed when the B-26 in which he was a tail gunner was shot down while bombing the Nervesa Causeway in Northeastern Italy while flying out of Corsica in 1944. A kind farmer buried the crew in his orchard, with their dog tags over each cross. At the end of the war my family had his body shipped home and reinterred on the ranch in a small family cemetery.

I visited that cemetery often. It was where I could make friends as a boy with four generations. I stay in touch with that hallowed ground via Google Earth even today.

The closest thing I had to a Brother was my uncle, 6 years my senior. He flew 300+ missions over North Vietnam as a decorated F4-C jet fighter pilot. A couple of years after he got home from two tours, he was killed in the line of duty working for what was then the DEA flying surveillance on the Dominguez drug family in Mexico. We spent a lot of time together before and after his time in Vietnam but we didn’t discuss that stuff…he knew my feelings about that war and I didn’t want him to feel any more pain than he did. He knew how proud of him I was, and still am. I was my Grandfather’s (his Father’s) “fortunate son” as the song goes, but while my uncle never could truly feel my Grandfather’s pride in him, I could.

My great, great grandfather grew up with Mark Twain in Missouri before he was called Mark Twain. They went west together but then split up after a failed attempt at mining in Nevada. My great, great joined the Union Army as a cavalry trooper during the Civil War and was stationed in Utah and Idaho making sure Mormons didn’t join either side, fighting Indians and keeping overland supply routes open. I’ve often wondered if he was involved in a battle that became the greatest massacre in American History in the last half of the 19th century, near Preston Idaho. I hope not. Two of my friends growing up are Shoshone, the tribe involved. I know now, didn’t know then, though, that my Great Great was slightly wounded saving his commanding officer and the graze left his mustache lop-sided:-)

I’m descended through my Fraternal Grandmother from my first ancestor on this continent, a Huguenot refugee from France who came over in the 1600’s, settled in Topsfield Mass, and fought in King Phillips War--the first major war between colonists and American Indians. It was the longest--and per capita, bloodiest--in American history. His name was Pierre de Chamois which in a short time became “Shumway.”

I don’t glory in what these people did nor was all of it admirable. But they did what they thought was their duty and I do admire that. They were obviously much tougher than I am. But maybe, just maybe, some of that DNA is what makes me, in the words of columnist Bob Ashley, “indefatigable” in defense and promotion of Durham.

Knowing this background, and even though I don’t believe the war in Iraq was necessary and in fact counterproductive to its alleged purpose, I’m even more convinced it is a travesty that no matter the good intentions…no matter how hard we try…this country never does justice in healthcare or any other way to the people who have, and continue to defend us.

No comments: