This is a sincere and ashamed apology. I have been so busy with my own preoccupations: complaining, teaching, writing fiction, and now, blogging – that I have done the unpardonable. I forgot that Monday, November 11th was Veterans Day. Armistice Day. Poppy Day. The day that all civilized people should remember. The day we devote to the memory of those who fought and died in our wars.
When I was a child there seemed something holy about the day: my own father in an overseas cap, a poppy in his lapel, the absolute silence at eleven o’clock, even the traffic stopping on Bedford Avenue! There was the occasional person weeping openly on the street and being comforted.
I had a brave father and a brave brother; my father, a gentle Hungarian immigrant, who was a naturalized citizen, enlisted in the American army and fought in the Argonne Forest and the trenches in France during World War I. Papa didn’t talk about the war a lot, but he belonged to a Jewish War Veterans Post. It was his single social “club.” He wore his precious overseas cap and marched in parades on patriotic holidays. When Mama quarreled with him, which she frequently did, and he lost his temper and shouted at her, she would roll her eyes and mumble “shell-shocked” and shake her head. Mama notwithstanding, Papa was a gentle man and I loved him very much and knew he was not shell shocked. But I could never truly imagine Papa as a soldier.
My kid brother, Arnold, an unhappy teenager in a poverty stricken home in the 1950s, ran away at sixteen and enlisted – lying about his age. Sent to Tokyo, he was trained as a military policeman and served honorably. When war broke out in Korea, American troops from Japan were immediately deployed there and he was declared missing the second week of the war. Arnold, who shared terrible knock-knock jokes with me. Arnold, whom I loved. Missing!
This tragedy essentially destroyed our family; my gentle beloved brother who loved to clown – and even in a grim household could make us laugh – was no more. My novel, IN A COLD OPEN FIELD (Black Heron Press 1991) tells his tragic story, and the even more incredible story of how my distraught orthodox Jewish mother tried to arrange supernatural “deals” to “save” him, through the Gypsy fortuneteller she met in a Coney Island storefront on Mother’s Day, 1951.
Next to that book on my bookshelf sits the handsome blue velvet case the U.S. Army sent with the Purple Heart Medal for Bravery that Arnold was awarded posthumously. To keep his medal company, I have tucked in Papa’s silver medal for service in the American Expeditionary Force in the Argonne Forest and elsewhere in France.
But so preoccupied was I with self this year, with the minutiae of my own small life, I did not mark or remember Veterans Day appropriately. I have been thinking about Papa and Arnold all day today, and now, of course, writing this. I resolve that today shall be my own personal Veterans Day, on which I take note of the great great loss of loved ones, not only my kin. Next year, if I am around to mark the occasion I shall do it properly and on time.
I have not forgotten those I loved who fought in the wars. I love them still and they mean much to me. They are with me tonight as I write. I feel their blessed presence forgiving me my lapse. They were always kind.