A Memorial Day Tribute Inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Stairway and the Journey to D-Day
Our boat sank Saturday. It was an awful feeling as I stood, unable to do anything but watch from the dock as Neal was frantically trying to bail out the water faster than it was pouring over the transom. The bilge pump wouldn’t work, and within a minute, despite his efforts, the boat was underwater and he was swimming. As the day went on I thought about how we can’t always control our situation but we can always control how we feel about our situation. It can be hard to be positive when your boat is sunk or your kid is struggling. Then I remembered it’s Memorial Day, and this post I wrote about boats and attitudes…
Originally posted September 2011
“ I wonder.” It’s one of my favorite thoughts. I get excited at “I wonder.” The walls in which I live tremble when I say, “I wonder” for I have taken an entire house down to the studs and rebuilt it fueled with those two words. Today though it is not architectural renovation on my mind but rather emotional archeology.
It’s pouring down rain. I just listened to the weather at the airport. The wind is gusting to 25 knots and the ceiling is broken at 700 feet. The current conditions are one more connection to what has been on my mind for days.
It started with a song line as it so often does. Led Zeppelin. Stairway to Heaven. When John Bonham starts on the drums I know for sure I want to come back next life as a drummer in a rock band. Combined with Jimmy Page on the guitar the music is filled with energy and optimism.
While listening to it I heard the words, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by,” and my thoughts took me back to New Orleans and a visit to the National WWII Museum. I saw again the images of soldiers, young men no older than my own son. The GI’s occupying my mind’s eye were on ships, in the English Channel, June 4-5, 1944, in weather very much like today. They were waiting and wondering what would happen next.
For they were part of the massive armada headed to the beaches of Normandy to face the German army and very possibly their death. In his book D-Day, Stephen Ambrose wrote how General Eisenhower described the soldiers’ situation. “Those people in the ships were in cages, you might say. You couldn’t call them anything else. They were fenced in.”
“There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” The song continued and mixed with the images of the men, yet the two were incongruous. They were doing battle.
How could these men possibly change the road they were on? They were caged, they had no choices.
I started wondering if there are times in life when we can’t change the road we’re on. Was Robert Plant wrong when he wrote those words and I was silly for liking them?
As I wondered and read accounts from the men who experienced D-Day, I realized most paths are not concrete but actually abstractions and so “in the long run” we can always change the road we are on by choosing how we see our situation.
For even while encaged in the brutality of war men such as those aboard the USS Bayfield tried to be encased in the belief that good would come from their inevitable sacrifices.
“During the cruise across,” Lt. John Robert Lewis said, “we all assembled on the deck and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This was a very sobering time to sing the words, ‘As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”
What a powerful image and equally powerful is the lesson that Robert Plant was right about there always being two paths and their existence means we always have the freedom of choice. It’s when we forget we have this freedom, which we often do, that we put ourselves in cages of our own creation.
Discovered also on this “I wonder” journey was a different kind of reminder of how and what we forget. According to the National Council for History Education, in the late 1990’s 40 percent of graduating high school seniors thought the US fought WITH the Germans and AGAINST the Russians in WWII.
If we imprison ourselves when we forget we have choices, what will happen when we forget we have history? How will our future leaders, young people who don’t know basic facts make solid choices regarding the future of our country, when their judgment has no historical grounding? Are the lessons learned from our past becoming lessons lost?
“I wonder” is a journey and at its threshold the final destination is unknown. Therein lies the fun.
Occasionally I wish to have a post that is dedicated to the act of remembering. The idea is to highlight a person, an event, an invention that has contributed to what we know, experience and maybe even take for granted today. I do this in the memory of Bill Bailey, a gentleman I met in Studs Terkel’s The Good War, who affected me when he said,
“I still think we’re all part of somethin’, call it the history of the human race, if you want to. I feel that if some guy ten years from now has got some halfway decent conditions, I wanna feel that I helped in some small way to make it possible for him to enjoy them conditions. I mean, that’s the name of the game. I just want somebody to say, ‘Them poor son-of-a-bitches, they musta taken a beating back in the old days. We don’t know all the names, but glory to them, or somethin’ like that.’ “
I hope you will enjoy reading these “Bill Bailey” posts as much as I know I will enjoy putting them together. Please share any ideas and thoughts. I would like the feedback!
“After lunch, Eisenhower sat at his portable table and scrawled by hand a press release on a pad of paper, to be used if necessary. “Our landings… have failed,” he began, “and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to this attempt it is mine alone.” Stephen Ambrose
Saying we always have the ability to choose our course does not imply that exercising choice is always easy. But to make a choice, take action and then willingly accept the consequences of that choice without passing blame or making excuses is strong and courageous living.
I also enjoyed discovering Eisenhower led Operation Overlord and Robert Plant wrote Stairway to Heaven in English country houses just 31 miles apart.