July stands out to most of us because of Independence Day, July 4th. It has its own feels and smells and sounds associated with the day. The music is mostly patriotic, which I have always liked, especially the marches by John Philip Sousa. They are stirring and very distinctive and built around a band that is marching while playing them. That very straight, incessant beat is also probably the beginning of the pounding disco beat, but who knew? The smells are mostly flowers on the graves of our deceased ancestors and the fallen military. A very distinctive scent in this context. The smells are also from the millions of grills set up to barbecue steaks and burgers and hot dogs. Also very distinctive. And the feeling of the day is mixed. Joy combined with patriotism combined with sorrow and love. The family get-together.
July seems to be a month sometimes dedicated to families uniting in picnics or reunions or an excuse for a vacation to come together to reminisce and talk about days gone by, whether good old days or not so good. If we didn’t do this, we might never see each other or the kids or the grand kids. So this gives purpose to the whole month. My own family in its younger years was filled with sunny days and dark days. Like most families. Unfortunately our memories seem to get clogged with the darker events which crowd out the really good times. You would think that the opposite would happen, that the good times would crowd out the storms and floods. In my younger days in the 40′s and 50′s they come through dark and cloudy. Maybe that is why I seem to crave rain and dark cloudy days and a cave-like atmosphere.
This period of time, and July itself, also reminds me of my uncles. All three of them served in World War II. I know very little about their service other than the fact that they survived. A miracle in itself. My dad’s two brothers were both marines, and my mother’s brother was in the army. My father didn’t serve because of a severe burn across his chest. All are now deceased. The only factual information I have is a newspaper report of one uncle in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl harbor. It said that he was on the tarmac firing his rifle at planes as they flew over. I’m not sure what the effect was, but he survived the event. Many did not. He never talked about it. My mother’s brother was stationed in Japan after the war. I know this only from the few pictures that I have of him there in uniform. He also never talked about this time. This is another example of memories crowding out other memories. I’m sure that the sunny days were overcome by the clouds and fumes and gun smoke of the time. No one talked about PTSD then. They just knew that there was a lot of trouble with the military readjusting to a society which had also changed while they were gone.
My memories of my paternal uncles were of them being loud and curt and under the influence. They scared the hell out of me. Nothing was logical or even made any sense. I was young and trying to grow. They were trying to assimilate. Nothing was working smoothly. It has taken many decades to work out these feelings. Somewhere in the many books I have read about this period of time there started to be a glimmer of understanding. But how do you begin to understand someone else’s pain and how they deal with it or how it destroys them? There is a movie from 1946 called “The Best Years of Our Lives” that deals with this problem in a dramatic way that, I’m sure, helped many people of that time to understand. It must have been popular, it won 8 academy awards including best picture.
I also have a friend from high school who served multiple terms in Viet Nam. He also survived, but he is in a very different place now. Survival is a relative term. The people that were so against the war at that time mistakenly blamed the individual soldier. In many cases this made re-entering the society of that time to be virtually impossible. I really hope that we are re-discovering duty and honor and love of our country and the worship of a loving God. When we forget these, we become a mere shell of the country we used to be. This needs to be reversed. And the best way is to teach respect to our young. They need to learn to sing (respectfully), The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and many other songs of America that are in danger of being ignored or lost. It has been said that freedom isn’t free. We ALL need to work at it.