The Flooers of the Forest

My ancestors play this Scot’s lament for me on Memorial Day, and though it’s forever a reminder of the country’s loss to the English at the battle of Flodden, in September 1513, I cannot help thinking that after every battle in every war the flower of the nation’s youth will not be coming home.

Here’s the song as I hear it. I’ve added some translations at the end.

I’ve heard the liltin at oor yowe-milkin,
Lassies a-liltin before break o day
Now there’s a moanin on ilka green loanin –
The Flooers o the Forest are a’ wede awa

At buchts, in the mornin, nae blythe lads are scornin,
Lassies are lanely and dowie and wae
Nae daffin, nae gabbin, but sighin and sabbin,
The Flooers o the Forest are a’ wede awa

In hairst at the shearin, nae youths now are jeerin,
Bandsters are lyart and runkled and gray
At fair or at preachin, nae wooin, nae fleechin –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

At e’en at the gloamin, nae swankies are roamin
‘Bout stacks wi the lassies at bogle tae play
But ilk ane sits dreary, lamentin her deary –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

Dule and wae for the order, sent oor lads to the Border
The English, for aince, by guile wan the day
The Flooers of the Forest, that focht aye the foremost
The prime o our land, lie cauld in the clay

We hear nae mair liltin at oor yowe-milkin
Women and bairnies are heartless and wae
Sighin and moanin on ilka green loanin –
The Flooers of the Forest are a’ wede awa

yowe=ewe
ilka=every
wede=withered
buchts=cattle pens
dowie-sad
wae=woeful
daffin’=dallying
gabbin’=talking
leglen=stool
hairst=harvest
bandsters=binders
lyart=grizzled
runkled=crumpled
fleeching=coaxing
gloaming=twilight
swankies=young lads
bogle=peek-a-boo
dule=mourning clothes

–Malcolm

 

Maybe there will be fewer Memorial Day sales this year

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. – Robert Laurence Binyon

My wife and I see our reflections in the Vietnam War memorial as I find the name of a high school classmate two died there.

Memorial Day Sales

These anger me because merchants raking in money and shoppers getting a good deal on the latest electronics equipment are not the purpose of this day.

Must we commercialize everything, including the day set aside for remembering our dead?

I’m by no means a hawk–just the opposite, actually. So, I do not see Memorial Day as part of the misbegotten notion that there are glory and honor in war.

Some say we should use the day to visit military cemeteries and memorials. That’s a better idea than heading over to Walmart and filling up a shopping cart. We could spend a quiet day at home or walking a favorite trail through the forest: such things allow us time to attune with the universe, ourselves, and our fallen soldiers.

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

Reading this book at a relatively young age was a strong influence on my becoming a pacifist. The novel is graphic, shows the dying, the dead, and the battle-weary in ways that leave no space for saying “isn’t this glorious?” Not that I’m suggesting we all stay home and read military history, battlefield novels, or watching films like “Saving Private Ryan” or episodes from the old TV series “China Beach.”

You Don’t Need to Become a Pacifist to Remember

The fallen were doing their duty as they saw it, sometimes against their will (at times of conscription), whether we agreed with the need to fight a particular war or not. Those who came home from those wars have not forgotten the fallen. Those who came home and those who did not and the families and friends of both often supported the wars and the need to enlist, heart, body, and soul. Those who supported the cause and those who did not have an opportunity to come together on Memorial Day and remember those no longer with us whom we loved.

I’ve written somewhere in one of my novels that the true casualties of war are those who come home with or without PTSD. They need our support and understanding and, on Memorial Day, our solemn regard for those who were killed. There’s no support available from us while we push and shove through the crowded aisles on a big box store.

The stores I respect are those that close on Memorial Day out of reverence for the meaning of the day.

–Malcolm

 

 

Veterans, I think, suffer more than the dead

 

“Thank you for your service.” Veterans appreciate hearing that.

Some people mix up Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I know this because official ceremonies for November 11 often occur in or near cemeteries. Photographs often feature gravestones. While well-intentioned through their inadvertent odes to the dead, these mixed-up commemorations are a faux pas because–to the cynical viewers like me–they show that people are too busy shopping and otherwise enjoying a holiday to get the reason behind the holiday right.

Today is for those who came back, not those who didn’t.

In my fiction about war, I have said that the dead are often the lucky ones, for those who come home to be thanked for their service once a year often have physical and mental wounds that will never heal. They often live under bridges, suffer through years of PTSD, lose sleep for the nightmares of war that cannot be erased from their memories, create dysfunctional families when they cannot re-acclimate into civilian life, and–if they fought in a war after WWII and Korea–they will hear that nobody wanted what they fought for and that it would have been better for them if they’ never come home.

Personally, I would rather my family see my name on the Vietnam War Memorial than on any list of heroes or in any photographs of soldiers receiving awards. Why? The survivors pay too much for having served. Death is so much better, so much more peaceful, and so much more blessed than being condemned by fate to become a living casualty whose dreams remind him/her of the worst human being can do to each other.

I salute the veterans who have triumphed over their memories of war, memories that will never be fixed by the words, “Thank you for your service.” They are braver and stronger than I am.

On this day, we support our troops, the ones who came home who will forever hear the sounds of artillery and rifle file in their nightmares and who will forever see the dead in the field in their mind’s eye. The dead in the field are, in my view, luckier than those who came home with memories of what they saw and what they heard in the war.

In spite of my anti-war cynicism, I’m glad the country steps aside from the more mundane moments of life long enough to celebrate a Memorial Day and a Veterans Day. These days remind us of the sacrifices of the living and the dead.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the anti-war novel “At Sea”

 

 

 

 

 

On this day of memories, an excerpt from ‘At Sea’

My favorite writing, I think can be found in my linked novels Mountain Song and At Sea. The books are true in ways I can never tell you and they speak of loss and other sad things and looking for oneself. At Sea is my Vietnam War novel. It’s still patiently waiting for the right audience to find it. Here’s an excerpt on a day when we remember those who didn’t return:

At Sea

On his last night aboard ship, David stood on the catwalk after stopping by the head to wipe the blood off his hands only to discover there were no damn towels. He wondered who, if anyone, he had betrayed: Píta, his golden eagle messenger, perhaps, and the dead on Jayee’s Lists; those who called him into the center of the lotus in the sea of fire or those who called him away from the lotus. Or even Jill, one way or another. He sought clues. Yet, with the ship steaming as before at various courses and speeds on Yankee Station at condition yoke on a clear commander’s moon of a night, with sleeping birds behind him with folded wings, with eight bells struck in pairs announcing the end of the first watch, he was blind.

Angelita once told him while they were treading water at the foot of Magdapio Falls, surrounded by sheer cliffs and a hovering rain forest, “God brings to us the ones we love if our calls are pure and strong.” She looked tiny and cold in the shower of spray and quite distracted by the everlasting call of the water, but he asked her nonetheless what one ought to do if his pure call spoilt over time. She climbed out of the water on to one of the many sun-warmed rocks, grabbed a towel, and chattered out a reply. “Ask God if your true love has a sister. If she doesn’t, then call an angel.”

He headed home nonetheless, wondering how many angels a man could scare away in a lifetime: To Danang, South Vietnam, aboard the ship’s C-1A Trader. To Cubi Point aboard a nondescript plane. To the Galaxy Bar in Olongapo to say goodbye to the angel who saved his life. To Clark Air Base aboard an HU-16 Albatross. Then, to Travis AFB in California via a TransInternational DC-8, arriving on January 1, 1970.

His orders granted him an honorable discharge, for reasons of conscientious objection and though the system said it was his right to do it, he would not be much liked for signing his name on that line. Anti-war protesters at the base spat on him and called him a baby killer. Ultimately, his liberal parents would yell at him on the phone and call him a hypocrite—it would not be the last time.

Jill was not at Travis to watch him run the gauntlet of the war protesters’ love-in beneath cumulonimbus clouds spinning the scattered late afternoon sunlight into threads of gold. Her parents had lured her into their snowy world along the Lake Michigan shore for the holidays, knowing—as did she—that he would show up wherever she was whenever he showed up. Using his bulky seabag as a battering ram, he pushed through the ranting flower children toward a dull blue military bus for the ninety-minute ride to the Alameda Naval Air Station.

“Mr. Ward?”

A tall, large-boned, gangly blond woman stood apart from the crowd with her hands on her hips. She had bangs; they hung loosely above her pale brown eyes, while her long hair swept back into a ponytail that was determined to catch in the collar of her denim work shirt.

“Yes?”

“I’m Eleanor Rose, Jack’s wife.”

He dropped his sea bag with a thud and they shook hands. “How did you recognize me? Are you meeting somebody?”

“Chief Coleman, of your recent employer, called me. He told me you looked emaciated, sick almost unto death. Hard to miss that. I’m here to meet you unless you want to ride to Alameda on that bus.”

“I don’t, unless you’ve got something worse.”

She picked up his sea bag as though it were weightless.

“Come on, Mr. Ward,” she said. “I’ve got a bright red Mercury M-250 pickup. It rides fine.”

“Call me David.”

“Your Chief Coleman was also right about your wife.”

“What about her?”

“She’s not here.”

“I didn’t expect her.”

Eleanor slung the sea bag into the back of the truck. “Get in,” she said. “It’s not locked.”

“Jill’s spending Christmas with her parents.”

“With all due respect,” she said as she guided the truck out of the parking lot, “she ought to be here.”

“I wish she were,” he said. “Not that you’re chopped liver.”

“I understand. You’ll need a home-cooked meal, I expect.”

“Are you offering?”

“I am.”

“Lucky break for me. I was expecting shit on a shingle at the base.”

“Jack loved this truck,” she said, and settled back in the seat like she wasn’t expecting a response.

The world flowed by, a normalcy of sorts. She looked at him from time to time, a pragmatic smile washing across her squarish face. South of Pinole, she told him the first money from Chogori was sending her back to school to get her teaching credentials. South of El Cerrito, she told him he would have to convince her over her best pot roast that Jack really had a fair hand in writing the book; it seemed so unlike him. As they drove through Berkeley, he told her about the hell-bent-for-leather Mt. Olomana climb, and she said that was Jack.

Then she said, “Your wife should have met you at Travis, not because you came home from a war or even because you survived. Survival isn’t our first duty. When you took a stand and became a conscientious objector, you became your true self.”

“I am not without regrets.”

“I don’t doubt it. They’re battle scars. Your family and friends will never see them. You will always feel them, don’t you think?”

“I do,” he said, happy that she couldn’t see the blood on his hands.

Copyright © 2010, 2013, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm

Visiting the Vietnam War Memorial

“If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.

“Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.

“And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.”

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978
The Wall-USA

My wife and I see our reflections in the Vietnam War memorial last summer as I find the name of a high school classmate who died there.

I remember because it’s impossible to forget.

I remember that when Maya Lin’s design for the wall was unveiled in 1981, it generated a lot of controversy for it was nothing like any memorial the public had ever seen. I liked it immediately and was relieved when it wasn’t changed or belittled by the close placement of other statuary. The Vietnam War was nothing like any war the public had ever seen, in part because we saw it on television in our living rooms, tallied successes and failures in body counts, and reacted and ultimately protested when–after initially supporting Hồ Chí Minh’s fight against French colonial rule–the U. S. became in involved in a new North-South civil war that seemed to have no end.

The body count is displayed on this wall and cannot be ignored. The wall was dedicated in 1982 and has, in the years since, become a site that draws people to it, where people see the names of the dead whom they knew and simultaneously see themselves reflected back by the mirror finish of the black granite. The wall currently has 58,318 names on it arranged in calendar order to match their dates of death.

I finally visited the wall last June on a family trip to Washington, D.C. I knew one name on the wall, an old friend from high school. I didn’t trace the name as many people do. I couldn’t. As you can see in the photograph, Mike’s name looked back at me while I was taking the picture. Perhaps, if I read them all, I would find other names I know, but I can’t. My consciousness isn’t deep enough for such knowledge.

The wall’s impact was overwhelming.

–Malcolm

 

Memorial Day Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

Excerpt from At Sea

Jayee’s Lists (The Poor Sons of Bitches who Died) lay faded in a low kitchen drawer beneath batteries, broken pencils, expired dog food coupons, forgotten pink birthday candles, gum erasers, and other unsorted miscellany.

Superimposed over the small battlefield of the ranch where lambs and eagles met largely unrecorded deaths on a rangeland framed by fences and box elders and cottonwoods and a narrow creek carrying water off the backbone of the earth in years of drought and years of flood, the old man recorded soldiers’ names and souls.

He read the news from Vietnam with morning coffee and evening spirits, and with a fine surveyor’s hand, he tallied the bare bones of body counts between narrowed-ruled lines in light-weight Bluehorse notebooks intended for the wisdom of school.

After dinner he walked his dessert out through the bluebunch wheat grass and settling sheep to his ancient Studebaker pickup truck. He carried a sharp yellow pencil and a pack of Chesterfields, tools for doing his sums, “calculating Montana” in a cloud of cigarette smoke from “vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, blended mild.”

On the first page of the first book he wrote, “Here are the poor sons of bitches who died.” On the last page of the last book, he wrote, “The dead, dying and wounded came home frayed, faded, scuffed, stained, or broken.”

On the pages in between, he wrote the name of each Montana soldier who was killed or missing in recorded battles far away. Sipping bourbon, smoking like a lotus in a sea of fire, he ordered, numbered, and divided the names by service branch, by casualty year, by meaningful cross references, by statistically significant tables, by the moon’s phases and sun’s seasons, by the cycles of sheep.

Jayee remarked from year to year that the notebooks grew no heavier with use. He saw fit to include the names of the towns where the dead once lived, fathered children and bought cigarettes. These names he learnt were also lighter than the smoke.

The current of his words between the pale blue lines of each thing page arose in fat, upper case letters that scraped the edges of their narrow channels. They began as a mere trickle from 1961 to 1964 that grew in volume in 1965 before the first spring thaw, to become a cold deluge that crested in 1968, wreaking havoc across the frail floodplain of pastures and pages, carrying the dark angry names scrawled with blunting pencil, and broken letters, through irregular grey smudges, over erasures that undercut the page deep enough and wide enough to rip away the heart from multiple entries. There was little respite in 1969. After that the deaths receded and most of the physical blood dried up by 1973.

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, HELENA, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG SANDY, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP, ROUNDUP, ST. IGNATIUS, HARLEM, BUTTE, BUTTE, WIBAUX, STEVENSVILLE, ABSAROKEE, LIBBY, WHITEFISH, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, HELENA, LIVINGSTON, CONRAD, GREAT FALLS, EUREKA, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, HELENA, JOLIET, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BROCKTON, MISSOULA, LEWISTOWN,  LAME DEER, SCOBEY,  ROSEBUD, GLASGOW, BILLINGS, ANACONDA, FT. BENTON, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, ST. IGNATIUS, DODSON, MISSOULA, SHELBY, MILES CITY, CUSTER, GLASGOW, LEWISTOWN, BILLINGS, BELT,  LARSLAN, MILES CITY, BUTTE, BUSBY, MISSOULA, MELROSE, BILLINGS, LIBBY, BILLINGS, BAINVILLE, HATHAWAY, BOZEMAN, BILLINGS, BILLINGS, BUTTE, MCALLISTER, WIBAUX, BROWNING, MISSOULA, THOMPSON FALLS, THOMPSON FALLS, LOGAN, AVON, MISSOULA, ST. IGNATIUS, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, ROSEBUD, DENTON, CHARLO, ST. XAVIER, HARLOWTON, SANDERS, LEWISTOWN, LIVINGSTON, MISSOULA, LIBBY, BUTTE, BILLINGS, SUNBURST, TROY, BUTTE, CHINOOK, JORDAN, DODSON, GREAT FALLS, LIBBY, HELENA, BUTTE, ROSS FORK, GREAT FALLS, INTAKE, BUTTE, BUTTE, GREAT FALLS, LIVINGSTON, BILLINGS, REDSTONE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, MCLEOD, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, HELENA, BILLINGS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, MALTA, KALISPELL,  ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, INVERNESS, RONAN,  MISSOULA,  SCOBEY, ANTELOPE, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, BUTTE,  BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, DODSON, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, LAUREL, BUTTE, CUT BANK, WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, DEER LODGE, BUTTE,  HAMILTON, MILES CITY, KALISPELL, VALIER, SHELBY,  KILA, CHOTEAU, GREAT FALLS, MILES CITY, HAMILTON, GREAT FALLS, HAVRE,  LAME DEER, GREAT FALLS, TROUT CREEK, POLSON, PABLO, HELENA, BIG TIMBER, LAUREL, BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, GREAT FALLS, BUTTE, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, GREAT  FALLS, GLEN, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, FROMBERG, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, CORAM, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, HAVRE, GREAT FALLS, COFFEE CREEK, LIBBY, FT. PECK, BOZEMAN, FORSYTH, POLSON, MISSOULA, WOLF POINT, KALISPELL, BUTTE, FAIRVIEW, MISSOULA, MILES CITY, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, BILLINGS, WIBAUX, BILLINGS, CUT BANK, TERRY, ANACONDA, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FLORENCE, HAVRE, SUNBURST, EUREKA, BILLINGS, THOMPSON FALLS, RONAN, WOLF POINT, FLAXVILLE, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, KALISPELL, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, ALDER, VALIER, TROY, RICHEY, LINCOLN, CHOTEAU, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, CLYDE PARK, MISSOULA, MISSOULA, HAVRE, and TROY.

Jayee’s tallies added up like this:

USA  – 169

USAF – 16

USMC – 59

USN  – 23

TOT  – 267

 

The old man made 267 trips around Montana between 1961 and 1972 that no surveying jobs could account for. He said little to the family about it and they didn’t often ask.

During Jayee’s second trip to Havre in 1966, Mavis, a waitress at the Beanery, noticed a stack of 44-inch white crosses sticking out from beneath a tarp in his truck.  On each cross there was a name. When she suggested that Jayee was stealing them from roadside accident scenes, he said he made them per spec to repay old debts.

Mavis asked Katoya if Jayee was all right and Katoya said “right enough.” He returned to the restaurant multiple times to prove he was right enough and was sitting there on August 31, 1967 when the 77-year-old Great Northern restaurant served its last bowl of Irish stew and closed its doors for good. When the building was torn down the following February, he pounded “an extra cross” into the rubble where the counter once stood and said it was the best he could do.

Months passed and additional stories surfaced about an old man crisscrossing the state searching for the families of the fallen, and of warm conversations lasting long into the dark hours. Jayee remained solitary and taciturn in the face of public or private praise or blame and traveled from town to town methodically, as though he was marking chaining stations along an endless open traverse.

After each individual’s name, he wrote XD (cross delivered), XR (cross refused), or CNF (could not find).

On October 18, 1974, Jayee died (surrounded by old relatives and the close perfume of vintage tobacco) with a freshly sharpened yellow pencil, with a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields, with lists and spirits close at hand, “waiting,” he always told those who asked about them.

Reverend Jones stood before the mourners in the small church and read the names of those who wished to remember and to be remembered, and one upon one, they created a great hymn that rose up over the banks of their consciousness and flowed down the rivers of their perception in a crowned deluge.

Copyright (c) 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Day of memories

“These heroes are dead. They died for liberty – they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars – they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.”

– Robert G. Ingersoll

memorialdaywikiMany online images remind us that this is a day of memories, one that clashes with wishes for a “Happy Memorial Day” and with images of barbecues and shopping.

I served on an aircraft carrier. Please don’t thank me for my service today. Save those kind wishes for Veterans Day. Thank those who didn’t return for giving everything they had.

This is a day of reflection, I think. What do we have? Who helped us establish it and preserve it? Have we honored their sacrifice by doing the best we can to govern fairly within the scope of the Constitution? Were the wars that took their lives just and meaningful and necessary?

Difficult questions, I know, but more important that asking “Where can I get 25% off on my purchase of a new riding mower?”

Barbecue if you must, but don’t forget why you’re able to do it.

–Malcolm

Memorial Day – Remembering

“Somewhere behind the haze-gray façade of bulkheads there are people.
People too important to be likened to small cogs in a massive
non-human machine. Each man has a distinguishable face and personality, a specific job to perform and memories of a world an ocean away.” –M. R. Campbell and M. B. Marmaduke in Cruisebook, USS Ranger (CVA-61), 1969-70.

Classic Ranger photo by Edward Weeden from 1979
Classic Ranger photo by Edward Weeden from 1979

The U.S. Ranger Foundation is working to convert the decommissioned aircraft carrier into a floating museum to be moored in Portland, Oregon. On Memorial day, it’s fitting to wish them fair winds and following seas on this massive project. For more photographs by Weeden, click here.

I served aboard this ship in 1968 and 1969 and, unfortunately, knew men who were lost in action. See my fictionalized excerpt called Jack Rose – Only a Memory.