These Honored Dead

Jeffrey here.  On Memorial Day eve, let’s leave Joey in the plastic bag.

Memorial Day in the United States is for most people a day to eat, play, and shop.  When I was young, before the Monday Holiday law, while the Vietnam War raged and parents of WW2 and Korean War veterans still walked the earth, the day had a different feel.

I respect those who are comforted by ceremonies concerning the dead.

Retired four-star general Stanley McChrystal wrote in Newsweek in 2011 that Americans have come to equate “service” with the military.  He does not approve:

“In an age that demands metrics of progress, how will we know when a culture of service has taken root? … For me, personally, I’ll know when a soldier stops a teacher in a train station and says, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

In this spirit, on Memorial Day, maybe we should rethink how, to recruit people willing to learn how to kill other people, we inflate that necessary evil into a glorious enterprise, thereby diminishing other forms of service.  And let’s reread the last lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem of the Great War, Dulce Et Decorum Est, in which he describes a soldier felled by poison gas:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Some highlights from today’s 70 mile ride from Herkimer to Cicero:

My day started with a message from Ground Controllers Benjamin and Deena in Chicago.  They biked 30 miles this morning, preparing themselves to meet Joey and me at the gates of the city and escort us in.  Benjamin said they were sore after 21 miles.  They have some training to do!  But young and determined, they’ll soon surpass the Old Man.


Before leaving the motel in Herkimer, I met this nice New Hampshire couple in the parking lot.  They wanted to talk about the trike, as did a man from Wyoming in the motel office.  I didn’t push the human rights buttons; not everyone wants to hear about refugees first thing in the morning.


In the motel office, I had a nice chat with Sara and Kim, who have owned the place for three years.  They immigrated from India.  A friend who loves Sara’s Indian food came by to deliver some wicked fruit pastries topped with icing.  Sara offered me one; I gratefully accepted half.  More new friends!


Today was sunny and pleasant – except for the 15 mph headwind.  On the road, I noticed that one bicycling shoe had lost a cleat screw!  I phoned local bike shops; no one answered.  What to do?  I pulled up next to Cathy and Peter, who were chatting on a residential street in Utica, and asked where I could find a hardware store so I could look for a substitute screw.  Cathy had a big jar of miscellaneous hardware in her garage; in minutes she returned with a screw that fit!  Meanwhile, I had a nice chat with Peter, who helps Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees through a neighborhood organization.  Soon Sandy and David – Cathy’s mother and son – joined us.  All four are thoughtful and witty.  They were interested to learn about the difficulties facing asylum applicants who do not have good lawyers like those trained and assigned by Human Rights First.  I much enjoyed the conversations; Peter said he wished we could talk longer. Friendly Utica!


At Oriskany, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War, I spoke with Ryan, a part-time park ranger.  HIs day job is on the management staff of a translation/interpretation organization in Utica that helps immigrants and refugees.  Once we knew we were on the same page on that subject, we talked about Memorial Day, history, and philosophy.  Ryan taught me that during the Revolution, the Mohawk Valley was the Wild West, and the locals had nothing to do with tea taxes and other issues that set the pot a-boiling in Boston, Philadelphia and New York.  He said the local fighting was over local matters, American against American, and resulted in most settlements between Rome and Schenectady being burned to the ground.


Much of the last several hours of today’s ride was through flat country that did not impede the brisk headwind.  At least this stretch of pavement was smooth and the shoulder was wide and protected by rumble strips.


Here are glimpses of Oneida Lake, the largest lake entirely within the State of New York.  At 80 square miles, it is significant . . . and dwarfed by its near neighbor.  For more on that, tune in tomorrow, when Joey will be back.


2 thoughts on “These Honored Dead

  1. You’re making good progress through The Empire State. I hope you have a productive “Memorial Day” both tomorrow and on the original date this coming Friday. You may be in Canada for that date.

    Cousin Joel


  2. thanks to your Utica pals we were able to see a picture of you. good to hear the weather is agreeable. We went to Soldiers and Sailors Monument in NYC upper west side to hear the Secretary of the Navy among other speakers and good music from the Navy Band. Folks spoke of veteran care. Safe travels.


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