I am mindful of what day this is, the only holiday we celebrate on its real date, the only one not nudged this way or that to give us the coveted three-day weekend.
It is the birthday of this nation, for which so many died.
My husband's uncle was in the Big War and did not die where he was stationed for three long years in the South Pacific.
Last July 4, while the rest of us were whining even with our air conditioners going full blast, he was making do with a single fan and the blue bandanna he wore around his neck to wick up sweat. He had AC; it came with his building. He just wouldn't use it.
"Hot?" he would say to me when I came to get him and take him out for our time together.
"THIS isn't hot! In the jungle temperatures routinely hit 120!"
I loved Uncle Ed ever since I met him on first coming into my husband's family as a girl of 19, but it wasn't until one day in the fall of 2006 that I came to really know him. That was the day he stepped into the back room of his little place and came forth with a worn three-ring binder filled with his original writings, clips of the dispatches that were sent back and published in a Boston based paper called The Hairenik Weekly aimed at the Armenian-American community, of which he was a part.
"I've never shown this book to anyone until now," he told me.
"Can we look at it together?"
"No!" he said. "Read it alone. Read it and keep it."
So I kept it, for six years, but within a month I had transcribed every word of it and carefully unglued and reglued some of the photos also mounted there.
The one you see at the top is one such. "Edward Haidostian," he had written in fine black ink. "The Island of Biak."
The clips are of poems, profiles and meditations.
"Enemy supplies line these dead places -- burnt, battered, and useless," one begins. "Piles of rice lay scattered all about rotting -- spread over the land by the blasts of bombs and the power of attack. Motors lay smashed. Fragments of planes strew the ground. Exploded shells are everywhere. Paper, refuse, fill the beach and the stench of death is keen in the nostrils."
"The water is smoothed into quiet ripples by the brisk breeze," another ends. "The passing barges and harbor craft leave a wake that widens and lingers in a long sweep in the calm water. Sunlight and moonlight, in turn, glint on the small waves at the shore. The sea and the jungles glow in the brilliance of the setting sun and the stars sparkle high above it all in the stillness of the night."
I reread these words and meet again the man I will never see again.
"Keep the book" he had said and I kept it -- until the day three months ago when, alone in his apartment, he died, between the hours of 6 and 11 p.m. as I concluded afterward; I, who found him lying dead like a soldier felled in battle after all, his head having smashed through the flimsy wooden door of the bathroom vanity,
I think of him every day and today especially.
Last night I watched again Terrence Malick's film adaptation of The Thin Red Line and was struck anew by how much it reminded me of this man so lately lost: the way it covers another horrific battle also fought in the South Pacific, the way it has much of the same hauntingly-beautiful classical music in it that he loved and played on his little hi-fi.
Here posted is a snapshot of the man as he looked in that war, with all of life ahead of him if he could but survive it. How I wish I had known him then.
I think of him and all the others who left their youth behind in war for our sakes. It takes an artist to make beauty of the experience. Uncle Ed did it and so did Terrence Malick, as this clip will attest.
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