Real Patriots Have Bumper Stickers

Letters from Ely - Sickening

by Duane Behrens
Saturday, March 08, 2008

This morning, a fan of mine sent the following e-mail: "Your columns sicken me. If you don't like what Bush is doing to protect the Homeland you should move to Iran or some other place where your communistic crap will be appreciated. You and all your [expletive deleted] friends are traitors to our troops and to our nation. Your agenda stinks. Take it somewhere else." [Name withheld]

After thinking about this for awhile, I penned the following response:

Funny. Your post made me think of pagers. You know, those little beepy things we carried before cell phones? I was the first in my high school to have one, after the principal got tired of looking for me whenever Dad went down.

See, Dad had been over at Guadalcanal in the summer and fall of 1942 during World War II - a war I believe absolutely had to be fought. Grandma told me he'd been a high school over-achiever before he left - a tall, strong, good looking farm kid who could really make the girls laugh. Funny how after the war, she always spoke of him in the past tense.

Not sure what changed him over there. Maybe it was those pieces of metal in his left lobe, although most of it stopped moving eventually. Maybe it was those months of having to step over the corpses of his buddies in the middle of the night to steal rice and fish heads from enemy supply caches. (They'd had to do this to survive, you see. The American supply ships had hauled ass out of there without unloading, after three of their escort ships were blown out of the water by the Japanese.) Or, maybe it was the electro-shock "therapy" he and his buddies got at the VA upon their return that turned him.

Whatever. He eventually found work as a high school janitor in that small Minnesota town where I grew up. When my pager went off, I'd have to leave history class or football practice to sit with him in a classroom or in a corridor. I mostly remember all the sweat that poured off his face as the seizure put him on an invisible torture rack . . . contorting his body into impossible angles as all those devils from two decades past came by for their twice-monthly visit.

Sometimes class would let out as I held him there. I never looked up as my classmates went to and from their lockers. It's not that I was embarrassed. But I'd often have tears in my eyes and I didn't want them to see.

Funny, though. Dad never cried, and he never moaned and he never screamed. He just took it. And when each seizure ended, he'd get up, and I'd get up, and we'd carry on as if it never happened.

Dad's gone now. Before the funeral service started, I held his hand as I stood by his casket, glad he'd found relief from 40 years of reliving one helluva six-month stint. And I quietly thank him and everyone like him every time I stand at his headstone. As a grown man, I find it odd that those tears still come whenever I'm there by his grave. Conditioned reflex, maybe.

Well. Listen to me, going on. My apologies, for having the gall to suggest that wars that kill kids should only be fought for a damned good reason. If I can find a picture of a flag somewhere, I'll be sure to tape one onto my bumper. Thanks to all our veterans - I hope you'll be okay.

But mostly, thanks to Dad - for teaching me why hateful insults from false patriots should always and only be given the same consideration as a wispy phart in a Minnesota snowstorm.

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