He was in one of the ugly mudholes of the war, though his shoes always gleamed with the spit-shine his father had bragged on about the Big War, when he got his stripes and while the streets here teemed like China with pro tem merrymakers glutinous against the Coke signs and the candy bars-cheaper-than-restaurants fare swarming over the-NASDAQ curb and overrunning the hyper tree bestraddling Rock Plaza, an IED exploded not nine feet from his buddies and without counting the blessings he would lose and the wife he’d not see and the unborn child with un-gurgled love-coos, not a thought to those, he threw himself onto the improvised exploding death device and gave-eternal-second meaning to “self-absorbed.”

Dedicated to Ross McGinnis, R.I.P.

Stefan Jovanovich responds:

Frank Fried once told me that “everyone knows two businesses — his own and show business”. In his 50-year career in show business, Frank managed Madison Square Garden, the Rosemont Horizon and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. Whatever the job, there was always some civilian who had a better idea of how to sell tickets.

Prof. Dreyfus’s poem reminds me of Frank’s wry comment. No one in Iraq has had spit-shined boots since the first day of combat. Shiny objects reflect lights — not a good idea if you want to avoid getting shot at. I have yet to meet a single combat veteran of World War II who “bragged” about his service, and none of them called it “the Big War”. That is a solecism one presumes is based on the fact that for its contemporaries World War I was know as “The Great War”. The streets in Iraq do not teem when American soldiers are around. People stay away — both because the Americans are known to shoot back and because they are targets. IEDs are made of the artillery shells that the Russians - and to a lesser extent - the Chinese sold to Saddam Hussein that were left in ammunition bunkers throughout the country. Most of them have sufficient explosive force to throw a 70-ton tank into the air and kill everyone inside - as one Israeli tank crew demonstrated when their Merkava drove over a buried shell in southern Lebanon. If Marion’s fictional soldier had an IED explode nine feet from his “buddies” he and everyone around him within a 100-ft. radius would be shredded into hamburger. Since IEDs are exploded by cell phone triggered detonators, there is no forewarning of their explosions.

The greatest dishonor people pay to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who die is to presume to know what they thought. As one of the more candid WWII veterans told me last year when we were drinking far too many beers, “it is not enough that I had to go through all that crap; now I have to listen to everyone who wasn’t there tell me what it was like.”


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