Monday, May 25, 2020

What happens to Memorial Day when nobody serves?

Decoration Day - the predecessor of today's Memorial Day - was established in the aftermath of the War of Southern Independence*.  There were essentially no families untouched by that charnel house.  When co-blogger and Brother-From-Another-Mother ASM826 and I grew up in the 1960s, the Second World War was still fresh in the nation's memory.  No families were untouched by casualty, and Memorial Day parades were a key event in towns across the land.

But today's wars are fought with a much smaller military.  Casualty reports are smaller, and simply don't effect many people.  As one of the soldiers remarked from Iraq: America's not at war.  We're at war.  America is at the Mall.

But not quite everyone.  Some hear the Call, and some of them die.  Those left behind know the full meaning of Memorial Day.  I posted this eight years ago, and it is worth thinking about today.  Christian Golczynski is now 20 years old and going to the University of Alabama on a scholarship from the Marine Corps Foundation.


Memorial Day isn't about barbecues for Christian Golczynski.  He was eight years old when LTC Ric Thompson handed him the flag that had draped his father's coffin.  That was nine years ago.

This weekend will be the ninth Memorial Day where he won't be thinking about barbecues.  Next month will be the ninth Father's Day with an empty chair at the dinner table.

That is what Memorial Day is about.

I've posted this song a number of times over the last few years, as it captures in music the sound of a heart breaking.  The song alternates between memories of the loved and lost, and the stumbling emptiness as the singer tries - and fails - to make sense of the loss.  It's not your typical sentimental Country music song, it's pure, distilled, 100 proof grief.

For some, that is what Memorial Day is about.

There is no official music video for this song; Messina is no longer the chart topping singer that she was in the 1990s.  But people have taken this music and found photographs that amplify the music and make it personal.  The second picture in the video is one that I found particularly moving - nearly as much as the one of young Mister Golczynski shown here.

This is what Memorial Day is about. 

Heaven Was Needing A Hero (songwriter: Jo Dee Messina)
I came by today to see you
Though I had to let you know
If I knew the last time that I held you was the last time,
I'd have held you and never let go
Oh it's kept me awake night wonderin'
Lie in the dark, just asking "why?"
I've always been told you won't be called home until it's your time

I guess Heaven was needing a hero
Somebody just like you
Brave enough to stand up for what you believe and follow it though
When I try to make it make sense in my mind
The only conclusion I come to
Is that Heaven was needing a hero like you

I remember the last time I saw you
Oh you held your head up proud
I laughed inside when I saw how you were, standing out in the crowd
You're such a part of who I am
Now that part will just be void
No matter how much I need you now
Heaven needed you more

'Cause Heaven was needing a hero
Somebody just like you
Brave enough to stand up for what you believe and follow it though
When I try to make it make sense in my mind
The only conclusion I come to
Is that Heaven was needing a hero like you

Yes, Heaven was needing a hero...that's you.
Abraham Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby is justly famous:
Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln
Christian Golczynski also laid a sacrifice on that same altar of our freedom, a sacrifice costly beyond our reckoning.  I hope that the fullness of time will ease his anguish as well.  I fear that it will not.

That is what Memorial Day is about.  Not a barbecue in sight, just pure, 100 proof grief.  This weekend as you go about your normal business of life, remember SSgt Marcus Golczynski.  And Christian.  And what that sacrifice means.  May this Republic be worthy of them.

* It wasn't a "Civil War" because the South didn't want to take over the North.  "War Between The States" is not specific about the issue involved.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

It's Parades and Picnics, Too

I remember marching in a Memorial Day parade in 1966. I was a Cub Scout. They probably started with a band and fire truck. There would have be antique cars decorated with bunting. Convertibles with the Gold Star Mothers riding along. The VFW would march with rifles. There was a small group of WWI vets that always marched together. Then the Boy Scouts and Cubs. The Girl Scouts and Brownies.

And if you weren't marching, you were on the curb or sidewalk watching. The whole procession came out of the high school parking lot and went down the main street until it turned left just before the river. The parade turned there because that took you to the main cemetery. The podium was set up and the various speakers took their turns before the veteran's graves. You knew which ones were the veterans because the stones were decorated with a flag.

I don't remember anything that was said. Just that it was solemn. I went looking. You can watch 5000 home movies of 1950s and 1960s Memorial Day Parades if you are so inclined. I picked one. Not because it seemed special, but because it seemed typical. This is what towns big and small used to do on Memorial Day.

It's a minute long. The video quality is poor. There is no sound. It looks like America.

Our dads and uncles were the guys that fought in WWII. Our grandfathers in WWI. They knew the guys with the flags on their headstones from high school and church. America was what all these men had fought for and Memorial Day was for the ones that hadn't made it home.

And there were picnics. Burgers and dogs, baked beans and chips, cold soda and beer. The smell of charcoal. Memorial Day was a celebration, too. A time to remember back at what it cost and a time to appreciate the day, the freedom, the life and the people we share it with.

Saving Private Ryan is a great movie. It would be a good movie without this scene, but this scene is what elevates it to greatness. It is the question that we should all ask ourselves. Is the life we are living worth the cost that was paid? I, too, hope that in their eyes it is.

John Williams - Hymn To The Fallen

This weekend is Memorial Day - not Thank A Veteran Day.  It used to be called Decoration Day, when people would go and decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers.  It is a day set aside for those who gave that last measure of sacrifice.

I am frequently quite harsh in my opinion of Hollywood, but every now and again something remarkable emerges from that Gomorrah.  Saving Private Ryan was such a film, one that is perfect for this weekend of remembrance.

John Williams wrote a remarkable score for the film, and this finale to the soundtrack perfectly captures the mood of the survivors, looking back.  Ave atque vale.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Remembering Uncle George

For the Fallen 
Robert Laurence Binyon 
Published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914. 

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

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.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The lamp of civilization flickers

But it does not go out.  As ASM826 has posted, the Past is a foreign country - they do things differently there.  But even from Blighty, where it seems that the post-whatever elite has made fair their triumph, comes this: the first real Commando raid, sponsored by Churchill himself.

Yeah, it suffered two thirds casualties, but it accomplished the mission.  I wonder what the current generation would make of this.

Actually, I don't.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Puff, puff

This is Borepatch, resurfacing.  Life has been busy, and I'm very grateful for co-blogger and Brother-From-Another-Mother ASM826 single handedly keeping the lights on here while I've been otherwise occupied.  Everything is well, but hokey smokes it's been busy.

I'll get back to work here presently.  I guess I better, before the Management here cans me.  You know what a jerk The Management can be ...

Today's News

My post yesterday about the removal of older, unmaintained dams became today's news in Michigan.

The Edenville Dam, built privately in 1924, had been owned and operated by Boyce Hydro Power. In 2018, their permit to operate had be revoked when a survey of the dam noted structural deficiencies and design flaws that made it vulnerable to a high water event. The spillways were only capable of shedding about 50% of the anticipated water. As water built up in the reservoir, pressure on the back side of the earthen dam would exceed the strength of the dam and a catastrophic failure was deemed possible.

Late yesterday afternoon, this predicted event occurred. 2.9 billion cubic feet of water were released into the Tittabawassee River. Wixom lake was drained.  Here's footage during and then after.

New Hampshire

This video is self explanatory. It's New Hampshire in 1947. A window into Old America of farms and textile mills. A time when New Hampshire made 20% of the shoes sold in the United States. Where fishing was abundant enough to be an export from the state.

This is home, no matter how long I have been away. I have memories of childhood. Hiking along old stone walls along the edges of farm fields. 4th of July picnics and parades. Leaves burning in the fall. Standing on the line with my grandfather at the trap range wanting to break them all.

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
William Faulkner

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


Exeter, New Hampshire is a town, like thousands of others, built at the fall line on a river. It was the potential energy of the water as it fell across the last rocks before entering the coastal plain that made the place attractive. To maximize that energy and direct the water into the wheels, people built dams.

By 1802, when this map was drawn, there were several dams just above the tidal section of the river. If you enlarge the map, you can see grist mills, linseed oil mills, and a fulling mill. The early industry in Exeter is all dependent on water power and the dams.

In the 1820s, a company formed and bought all the upstream dams and water rights, and built one large dam just downstream of the main bridge. In 1829, the Exeter Manufacturing Company built it's first buildings and started using the power provided by the four water wheels at the dam. It was the only power source available until the 1870s. 

I couldn't find any history of how they moved away from water power, but I suspect it was first to steam and then to electricity. If you are familiar with how water power is transmitted to pulleys and shafts, tying that to steam seems a logical step. There was still use for water and the last dam was built in 1914.

Here's Exeter as it was in the 1940s. The dam was already an artifact. Exeter at that time was a mill town with several industries, primary the cotton mill and a shoe factory. The mill owner had most of the political power in town and also a controlling interest in the local bank. It was not an idyllic situation. The hours were long, working conditions poor and dangerous, and it was only changes in the laws that lead to eight hours shifts and improvements in conditions.

It did provide jobs and manufacturing for 150 years.

The Exeter Manufacturing Company was sold in 1966, then sold again in 1981, finally closing in 1983. The mill building was turned into apartments. Somewhere along the way the dam became the responsibility of the town. It served no function. It had been neglected for decades.

A survey found that significant upgrades would be necessary if it was to be maintained and re-certified as safe. It had been known since colonial times that the dam blocked migratory fish from reaching the spawning grounds in the upper fresh water reaches of the river. Fish ladders had been installed in the 1950s without much success. You can see how this was going to go.

No necessarily a bad decision and one that made economic sense as removing the dam was the least expensive option. It was put to a vote and the decision was 2 to 1 in favor. The Exeter River was reopened for the first time since 1638. Here's a documentary. It's not the loss of the unused dam. It's the changes to the town and the people I was noticing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Having the will and the financial resources isn't enough. Someone has to know how.

EngelsCoachShop has a YouTube channel and he has posted some very interesting videos of his work.  What follows is a compilation video of wheel building. I picked this one because these are huge wheels, built for a heavy borax wagon, and because the whole job is shown in one video. You can watch this and other projects in detail on his channel.

The shop has all the tools and machines. Some new, some very old. They use what works. You might see a century old hand tool one moment and a chainsaw the next. They are building wagons and wheels for antique repairs and reproductions.

 If you put me in there and told me to build a wheel, my first attempts would pretty sorry affairs. Even with all the equipment, it is the decades of accumulated knowledge gained while working in a craft that is important.