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Their Normandy Beach, Our Higgins Boats

normandy-higgins-boatOn this day seventy-two years ago, young Americans were fighting and dying on the shores of Normandy France. The soldiers made their way onto the beach that June 6th in Higgins boats, unique high-walled boats that carried 25 men, sort of a “floating boxcar.”

Conservative author Peggy Noonan wrote about D-Day, and about the Higgins boats in the introduction of her book “Patriotic Grace: What it is and why we need it now.” Noonan tells of one soldier, his fate intricately woven with the fate of the other men in his Higgins Boat, heading in high seas to a conclusion unknown… “it took [his] five little boats four hours to cover the nine miles to the beach:”


They were the worst hours of our lives. It was pitch black, cold, and the rain was coming down in sheets, drenching us. The boats were being tossed in the waves, making all of us violently sick.

Noonan reflects in the remainder of Patriotic Grace on the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in as a people today, and of the rise of the partisan hate-filled din. Says Noonan “we fight as if we’ll never need each other,” yet our very fate may depend on one another.


And so I came to think this: What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace-a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them. That acknowledges that the small things that divide us are not worthy of the moment; that agrees that the things that can be done to ease the stresses we feel as a nation should be encouraged, while those that encourage our cohesion as a nation should be supported. I’ve come to think that this really is our Normandy Beach… the little, key area in which we have to prevail if the whole enterprise is to succeed. The challenge we must rise to… We are an armada. All sorts of Americans, wonderful people, all ages, faiths and colors, with different skills, fabulous skills, from a million different places, but all here with you, going forward.

Like it or not, we are in each others’ Higgins boats. Our fate, almost certainly shared.

Given that circumstance, perhaps we might use today to consider how we will best keep faith with those young Americans who left their lives that day on Omaha Beach. It’s something we ought to be doing right about now.

Photo credit: Chuck Holon



Liz Joyner: To honor their sacrifice

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As we continue to build our new Village Square community both in our hometowns and nationally, Memorial Day weekend, I think, is the right time to talk about the history of the “Threads of A Nation” quilt we occasionally use on our website (and we have in bumper stickers for sale). Many years ago, before I realized that if you spent 14 million hours on a project it was hard to sell it for a profit, I wanted to be a textile artist. I made my first “Threads of a Nation” quilt well before September 11th, as a tribute to my father, brother and grandfather who all served in the military, and to my father-in-law who died in Vietnam. The quilt incorporates a rubbing of his name off the Vietnam memorial. It’s 5 x 7 feet in size.

To get the rubbing, I bought a pad of nice paper and brought a fistful of pencils to the Mall in Washington one day. Other people visiting the wall, all of whom I suppose had some part of themselves etched in granite there, asked me if they could borrow paper and pencil to do their own rubbings. We stood at that wall, some ten or so strangers, connected briefly in common pursuit… leaning and rubbing. I left, short a few pencils and all out of paper, with my rubbing on a single piece of paper and the memory – another thread in the quilt, I suppose.

When I first imagined “Threads of A Nation,” I wanted it to depict the dreams and hopes, the principles, the struggle and heartbreak, the achievement that is woven into the fabric of America. I used ethnic and contrasting fabrics that, as the individuals who together make our country, strain against each other close up, but once assembled make a whole – one with more depth and richness than were all the pieces similar. Among the words printed on the fabric are passages from the Constitution and Gettysburg address which embody both the idea of what this new country could be and the bitter divisions that have strained our union, leaving the threads of our nation worn but not broken.

Today, these ideas seem somehow more real, more important, less theoretical than in the days when I first committed them to fabric. Today, we must take special care to remember the principles on which this country was founded. We must remember that a great insight of our Founders’ was that diversity of opinion could be a strength in governing a country. I believe we need to seek out this diversity to counteract the trends toward tribal division and building fury toward one another. We’ve spent a decade doing that at the Village Square and it really does change everything. Today, we must see how deeply we are all “threads” in the whole. It is these principles that the men and women who have lost their lives for our country were serving.

Today, Memorial Day, it is the day to remember – and honor – what those who fought and died gave for this country that they, like us, love.

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Liz Joyner is the cofounder of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org.



We honor those who have served.



Colbert Report salutes our troops “because if there is one thing they don’t get enough of, it’s salutes”

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“You must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country”: George Washington and our civilian-controlled military

John R. Miller writes in Sunday’s New York Times about how George Washington played a key role in forming the cherished American principle of civilian control of our miliary (thanks to Luke for finding this):

On March 10, an anonymous letter appeared, calling for a meeting of all officers the next day to discuss the grievances. Within hours came a second anonymous letter, in which the writer, later revealed as Maj. John Armstrong Jr., an aide to top Gen. Horatio Gates, urged the troops, while still in arms, to either disengage from British troops, move out West and “mock” the Congress, or march on Philadelphia and seize the government.

When Washington learned of the letters, he quickly called for the meeting to be held instead on March 15 – to give time, he said, for “mature deliberation” of the issues. He ordered General Gates to preside and asked for a report, giving the impression that a friend of the instigators would run the show and that Washington himself wouldn’t even attend. He spent the next few days planning his strategy and lining up allies.

But just as the meeting of approximately 500 officers came to order, Washington strode into the hall and asked permission to speak. He said he understood their grievances and would continue to press them. He said that many congressmen supported their claims, but that Congress moved slowly. And he warned that to follow the letter writer would only serve the British cause.

The officers had heard all this before – the letter writer had even warned against heeding Washington’s counsel of “more moderation and longer forbearance.” The crowd rustled and murmured with discontent. Washington then opened a letter from a sympathetic congressman, but soon appeared to grow distracted. As his men wondered what was wrong, Washington pulled out a pair of glasses, which even his officers had never seen before. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country.”

The officers were stunned. Many openly wept. Their mutinous mood gave way immediately to affection for their commander.



STOP. Remember those who died.

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In the busy hubbub of modern life, today too often becomes about sleeping in, shopping, getting the lawn mowed. But forgetting the real meaning of Memorial Day is nearly impossible in my neighborhood because of a neighbor.

We’ll call her Jane.

Jane’s lawn is a memorial to the sacrifice made by our fellow Americans, people like you and me, until they put everything in their life on hold to do what their country asked. And in case you didn’t notice the front-yard-turned-monument spread out right before you when you drive past Jane’s house, her sign downright insists that we STOP.

So, stop I will… to honor the memory of our neighbors killed in service to our country since this American experiment began. Those killed in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Vietnam, in WWII and WWI and those killed more quietly away from the headlines in smaller conflicts that have exacted the same big price.

To my father-in-law who died in Vietnam, and to my mother-in-law who had to raise four children without him, I remember.

In the name of my family members who served and are serving: My grandfather who left a thriving pediatric practice to join the Army in WWII, my father who spent his career in service to the Navy (first as a pilot, later as a civilian), my brother and sister-in-law and cousin who still serve today… I remember.

The Village Square has always been about finding what we agree on in the midst of so much disagreement, and this is it.

Today, as our country remembers, President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. I’m a D.C. native who’s had many an opportunity in my life to take in the breathtaking awe of Arlington. You simply can’t leave there unaffected.

For every rich and beloved life lost in the sea of crosses on the hills of Arlington, we remember.

Sure, it’s a different scale, but if you really pause to take it in, you won’t be quite the same when you leave Jane’s lawn either.



Oh Beautiful, for patriot dreams



For those who serve

Thank you.