Category Archives: Essay
July 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that marked the cease-fire in Korea. It is often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.” Indeed it was a conflict that marked a turning point in modern warfare. It was a war sanctioned by the United Nations and resulted in an outcome of something less than unconditional surrender of the enemy. Korea marked the first stalemate of the Cold War and it was not to be the last. Difficult to comprehend; it was a war of geopolitics and hegemony played out under the pall of an unthinkable third world war. Indeed, the threat of additional conflict in Korea conflict lingers to this very day.
How could Korea become The Forgotten War? How could America forget the 2 million casualties of that intensely brutal war that lasted a mere 37 months? How could America forget its 34,000 sons who died at the rate of nearly 1000 per week?
I am here to tell you the story one man from a small town in Massachusetts who went to Korea as a mere mortal and returned with a touch of immortality, never to be forgotten. He was an extremely bright and charming young man who left college early to enlist in the Marines in September 1950. He returned to Hopedale briefly that Christmas after completing basic training at Parris Island and deployed with the 1st Marine Division in Korea on January 28, 1951.
By now, the Communist Chinese Army, the Red Army, was fully engaged in the conflict and had been since their unexpected entry during the previous winter at Chosin Reservoir that nearly drove the Marines Corps into the sea. Now the 1st Marine Division were up against them in an area known as the Punchbowl, a dormant volcano lying in treacherous mountain terrain. The fighting was as fierce as it was at Chosin. Many new replacements were now engaged in seemingly constant battle against the enemy. The Marine Corps Gazette reported it this way:
Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.
Battles took place daily against a fierce and entrenched foe. Day long battles were fought for territory gains of only several thousand yards. During the first 10 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division lost 67 men killed in action. Those loses were higher than any other month in the war; higher than during the famous Chosin Reservoir operation.
Among those dead was Corporal Richard J. Griffin. He received shrapnel wounds in battle on June 9, was evacuated and died aboard the hospital ship USS Haven on June 16, 1951. He had been a Marine for less than one year, in Korea for less than 5 months, and now he was coming home to be laid to his final rest.
Dick Griffin lived on Cemetery Street, just a few hundred yards from where we stand and his grave is in this cemetery where we honor him today along with so many others who fought and died in defense of our country. We in Hopedale have not forgotten our son from The Forgotten War.
In October of 1964, the Town of Hopedale dedicated a new 40 unit apartment complex for the elderly in his honor. Richard Griffin had been remembered once again for the lives that he had touched. A young attorney who knew Dick Griffin presided over the dedication. Perhaps these words capture the soul of the young man who died too young. He said:
Whoever coined the ancient proverb that ‘the good die young’ had such as Dick Griffin in mind. Dick had all the gentler qualities- loyalty, modesty, courtesy and a sense of the appropriate- to a degree unusual in a person so young and an unselfishness unique in a person of any age…He was truly one of those whom William James call ‘the once born.’
That young attorney was our own Judge Francis J. Larkin. Colonel Francis J. Larkin. We thank him for keeping alive the memory of his dear friend Dick Griffin and for keeping him closer to our own hearts. And we thank him for keeping alive this fine tradition of commemoration with our Memorial Day parade. He has shouldered this great burden for many years and is now ready to pass the torch to another generation of thankful Americans.
Finally, in November 1994, this monument was dedicated to all of the veterans of Hopedale, some 159 of whom served during the Korean War era. This stone behind me commemorates the memory of Richard J. Griffin, forever etched in granite, as the single Hopedale resident killed in action in Korea.
This member of “The Silent Generation” who fought in “The Forgotten War” shall never be forgotten in Hopedale. Corporal Richard J. Griffin, may you rest in eternal peace alongside and with your fellow comrades-in-arms. So long as this granite stone bears your name and Americans remain grateful of their heritage the memory of your life and service shall never fade.
The news came across my car radio while listening to a sports talk show in New York City. Something awful had happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was the first blast, then another. The unnerving pattern of twin explosions, eerily reminiscent of the aircraft that struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, left little to the imagination. The chances of this being a random event seemed immediately implausible. America had been terrorized once again in the most public of ways on a stage as big as the world itself.
Immediately you do the accounting. Is my family safe? Did anyone have reason to be in Boston this afternoon? It was impossible to know how many people I may have known who were involved in running or support of the marathon. Where I live it is simply too big an event to ignore. When out-of-towners ask me where I live in relation to Boston, I tell them that I live to the West about 26 miles, 385 yards. People immediately make the connection.
I vividly recall assembling my children on September 11, 2001, and describing for them how their lives were going to change. Life in America was to be forever altered. They were barely adolescents then. What could my statement have meant to them having not yet known the personal pain of such loss? Or the implications to our security and liberty that were sure to follow. It was my duty to ease into that explanation and prepare them for an adulthood that would all too often ooze tragedy.
Terrorism is personal to me, especially 9/11. I used to work in the E-Ring of the Pentagon; I entertained in the Windows of the World atop the World Trade Center. Several of my classmates were New York denizens. Four of them worked in the impact zone. Two of them were away from the city as their buildings were hit; and two never made it out. These were the stories I would pass along my children and their children. This was now part of my life narrative.
The Boston Marathon bombing was immediately different. Nearly 12 years after 911, it was my children who first contacted me to see if I was accounted for rather than the other way around. And when quizzed, it turned out that they had fewer degrees of separation with their friends and colleagues than did I. Their friends were all around that scene of carnage. It became immediately personal to them. And urgent.
That’s when it hit me. No longer could I shelter my children from the cold reality of life. No longer could I gently explain what was happening around them in a world that all too frequently gets turned upside down. No longer could I protect their innocence. It had been snatched from them. And they turned their protection towards me to provide shelter from the shock of the horrific situation.
So now, in this new social reality in a post-911 context, my children are now citizens of the World of Terror. They have their own recollections of simpler, less violent times. They have their own images of once sacred spaces forever marred by the incomprehensible reality of a world at war with itself.
It is an unfortunate rite of passage in this new world. Sadder still is the thought that my kids will shelter the next generation of Americans who will inevitably need sheltering when the next act of terror touches their lives. If the Boston Marathon bombing settles one thing it is this: however quiescent current events might become, there will be another act of terror that will require explanation and tenderness.
So, for me, the baton has been passed to my children. Now having borne witness to their own incomprehensible nightmare, having made the numerous connections to people within their ever expanding number of acquaintances, they are fully adult. Perhaps it is their rightful turn to begin to bear the burden of the weight that life presses down upon our shoulders. I wish I could shelter them from that awful burden but I fear they will need to develop that strength sooner rather than later. This problem will likely be with us long after I leave this earth.
Over time, we will prevail. We will rise again. Life will regain a sense of normalcy. But the bar of normalcy has been raised. Like a balloon that has been stretched, it never regains its original shape. It is forever deformed.
We ARE Boston Strong.
Who doesn’t go on vacation with an anticipation of blissfully hiding from the headlines for a week or so? And so it was my expectation as we headed out on a Saturday morning that the next newspaper I held in my hands would be to light a fire on the beach. Only on that particular Saturday Paul Ryan was picked to be Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate. It has been difficult to hide my head in the sand this week but I have tried to go “pundit-less” so that I could accurately capture my thoughts about the selection of Paul Ryan.
I am excited by this pick for a number of reasons. It has excited Mitt Romney. He seems a bit like the boy who is so excited about tomorrow that he can’t go to sleep. There is an excitement in the ranks of Republicans, too, as the Romney campaign appears to have picked up a conservative philosophical tone. Finally, there is both trepidation and exhilaration on the part of the Democrats that describes their uncertainty over the selection of Ryan as a conservative architect of the Republican budget. Some can’t wait to sink their teeth into him and others are shrinking from the inevitable debate with Joe Biden. You think the Olympics were a highly watched event? Wait till the hype for this: “Biden-Ryan in Kentucky: Dropping the Anvil in Danville.”
There has been so much ideological debate this campaign season about who is the purest of the pure when it comes to conservatism. Could any candidate survive that dissection and also win a nomination? No candidate with a voting record could demonstrate that purity without contradiction. Stalwart that he is portrayed to be, even Paul Ryan would fail to turn the litmus paper red every time.
When last I looked there were over four hundred 2012 Presidential hopefuls registered with the Federal Elections Commission. Collectively we have had exposure to only a dozen or two. We never came to know very many and I am certain there were fine people among them with great plans but no traction. So now it has come down to these two Republicans, Romney and Ryan, to be pitted against the incumbent Democrats President Obama and Vice President Biden.
It is a mega-match up. Given the woodpile of Presidential timber from which to choose, this is the best set piece of an ideological battle for which we could hope. On one hand, the Obama-Biden ticket promises more of the same wealth redistribution approach to government. Steady as she goes. Without a course, any wind will take you there.
The Romney-Ryan ticket promises something else. We know the mantra: smaller, less intrusive government with fiscal responsibility. The ticket promises us a better economic plan to get us back on track but it has to be so much more than that. It must truly begin to reflect the nature of the conservative/tea party rebellion that we have witnessed for the last three years. Without it, the economy will falter and we will be pointing fingers at Party Politics, the Political Class and the Establishment as the usual suspects.
Picture the Ship of State as an aircraft carrier. It is a mighty and powerful behemoth with tremendous momentum. If the Captain wants to stop the ship he can call all engines full astern. Nothing will happen for a painfully long time. But the Captain will anticipate that and have faith that physics will prevail and the intended consequence will ensue. In the meantime it is all about the leadership to set the stage for patience for the physics take hold. That same Captain could stop the ship with more rapid effect by running aground but with deleterious consequences. Speed of execution is less important than certainty of outcome.
Extreme times call for extreme measures and require extreme explanations and consensus building. Not the kind of consensus that delivers merely the lowest common denominator but the consensus that results from an intelligent conversation, with urgency, which improves the decision because people share the vision of what is possible. This will require communication above and around and through Congress directly to the American people who have so much at stake.
And make no mistake about it, true reform in Congress is going to be extremely difficult. No one has been successful in nearly 20 years and the stakes have changed remarkably. Every President gets one good shot at making their mark, of navigating their way to a destination. Course and speed affected by tide, set and weather. This is a true crossroads in American history and the Romney-Ryan ticket must have the guts to see it through.
This is where Paul Ryan can use his Roadmap for America to best advantage. Of the 435 members of the House, who had a better articulated vision for the sustainable future of America than he? Yet I don’t suppose even he thought that his proposal would sail through without debate and amendment. What he started two years ago was a dialogue, perhaps a monologue, with the American people. It was they who began to see the intelligence of looking under every rock and having a plan to do something about the consequences of the fiscal realities that were staring us in the face if we would only open our eyes.
So I am quite happy that this battle is drawn. I am pleased that there are two distinct options this November. The course to port leads us closer to rocks and shoals with no means of egress. The path to starboard, even if it is not hard right, offers us hope to lead us out to deeper waters to allow us to have grown up conversations about our great republic.
The choice is less about Republican versus Democrat or right versus left. It is about leading America in ways it wishes to be led and knowing how to execute a vision. The time between now and November must be used for building the vision in real terms so that Americans will look forward to the journey. No more hope and change on either side, please, just the facts.
Captain, let’s turn this ship of state around. “Helmsman, come starboard to course 180 degrees!”