Archive for the June Category

THE MATRICULATION OF SERGEANT CARR, ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES

Those of you who read these essays carefully may recall an incident dating to January of 1936.  At that time, I entered high school.  The Clayton Missouri public school system offered a course in high school in preparation for those who were going on to college.  When I was asked if college were in my future plans, I answered negatively and truthfully.  In point of fact, January of 1936 was at the bottom of the Herbert Hoover Depression.  There was no way that I could ever think about enjoying a college career.  And so the die was cast.  During my four years at Clayton High School, I was given a general course of studies as distinguished from the college preparatory course.  Those four wasted years have resulted in my having to educate myself.  This is the ultimate in home schooling.  The education that I have received comes from life experiences and the voracious reading of books.

My latest attempt at the matriculation of Sergeant Carr came at the end of May, shortly before the Memorial Day holiday.  In that case, I attended a session in Mrs. Briber’s class at the fourth grade level at the Glenwood School near our home.  The progression of events occurred in this fashion.

 

Somewhere in the beginning of May, we received a call from Mrs. Mariana Janela, a volunteer mother who assists Mrs. Briber.  The request was that I should appear on the last day of school before Memorial Day and, while she did not state that I should talk about Memorial Day that, I assume, was the burden of her thought.  On more than one occasion, I thought how foolish it was of me to commit to a presentation after 27 years of silence on my part since my retirement.  But in the end, the students of the fourth grade class of Mrs. Briber made things easy for me.

On the appointed Friday, at 11 o’clock, I appeared with Judy, my wife, before Mrs. Briber’s class at the nearby public school.  After a small introduction, I was on my own.  It was the first time that I had ever spoken to a fourth grade class in a scholarly setting.  At the beginning, I asked Mrs. Briber whether she still taught arithmetic.  She answered me by saying that she taught mathematics just this morning.  I assumed that this was a correction and that “arithmetic” is an ancient term and “mathematics” is a newer term.  Nonetheless, Mrs. Briber assured me that the students could perform mathematical feats.  So I asked the students to solve a problem in subtraction for me which had troubled me for some time.  I called on the students first to write down the number “2011” which of course is the current year.  Under that I asked them to write, with a minus sign, the number “1928” without telling the students that that was the year I entered first grade.  Then I asked the students to draw a line under the problem and give me the result.  In short order, the students told me that the answer was 83 years.  So that was where this exercise in matriculation started.

I told the students that I first enrolled in the first grade in 1928 and found that my first grade teacher was Miss Brantley.  I explained to the students that in the Clayton school system, if a teacher married, her contract would not be renewed.  To this day, what marriage has to do with the loss in mental ability or teaching ability eludes me.  But that is the way it worked back then.

In any event, I explained to my fellow students in the fourth grade class that the first thing Miss Brantley had taught us was to sing a song welcoming each day.  The lyrics of the song were:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you.
We’re all in our places
With sunshiny faces.
Good morning, Miss Brantley,
Good morning to you.

Curiously, I had no trouble in recalling that song of 83 years ago.  I suppose it is a tribute to my having sung it off and on for all these years.  The fact is that I sang that song to my fellow students.  At the end I asked them if it could be turned into a symphony.  They seemed to all agree.

In the interest of time, I did not tell them about the day when I could not read and Miss Brantley rescued me from the girls’ restroom.  On that occasion she took me next door where there was block lettering for the boys’ bathroom and she taught me how the word “boys” started with a “B” and she had me trace the letter “B” in boys which I also remember to this day.

Then I told my fellow students that Miss Brantley really insisted on decorum in her classroom.  When she asked a question, those who knew the answer were to put their arms in the air to signal that they knew the answer.  I determined that the same system applies to this day in the Glenwood School.

I then told my fellow students that they could put their arms in the air or even do handstands and I would never call upon them.  This is a result of the fact that I am blind.  I then had the opportunity to tell them about glaucoma, which prevents the fluid in the eye from draining.

They seemed to absorb that I was blind as a matter of course.  They didn’t say, “Oh, you poor thing!” or some such rot as that.  If that is what I said, they accepted it. That was a wonderful feeling for me.

I said, now that you know why I will not call on you because of my blindness, I will tell you how things are done in the American Army.  In many cases the company clerk will call the role each morning.  He will say, “John Jones,” and John Jones will answer, and then he will say, “Frank Smith,” etc.  But the answers are not given as “Here” but rather when your name is called you will answer, “Hyuo!”  The same applies at mail call.  If you say “I’m here” quietly you will be marked as absent.  The object is to say, “Hyuo” loudly and forcefully.

I asked them then if they could repeat after me a “Hyuo!” coming from their guts up through their windpipes and out through their mouths, saying “Hyuo!” as firmly as they could.  The classroom resounded with a boisterous “Hyuo!”!  That also made me feel exhilarated.

At this point, I said, “So much for the preliminaries about what I want to say to you today.  Somewhere around the year 2000, it became obvious that men who fought in World War II were dying at an alarming rate.  On some occasions there were 1000 to 1400 deaths each month.  Remember, that war ended 66 years ago.  So the Library of Congress asked some veterans, including me, to record our thoughts before it was too late.”  At this point, I showed the class a video of what I had recorded that reflected my thoughts.  Rather than tell them what I did during the war, I elected to tell them about four other soldiers from St. Louiswith whom I had a great friendship.  The four men in question are Ashby Vaughan, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss, and Don Meier.  All of those men were killed in action during the war.  I thought that rather than telling the Library of Congress what I did, the memory of these four guys should take priority over whatever I did in my military service.  In the final analysis, five of us went to war and only one returned.  I am the sole survivor of that group of men.

(Enclosed is your copy of the DVD of the presentation that I made for the Library of Congress and at this point it was played for my fellow students.)

I told the class, “Next Monday I believe that there will be no school and you will have a day off.  There will be a holiday called ‘Memorial Day’ on which we celebrate the contribution of men who died in service.  On Monday and for all of the days thereafter, I hope that you will keep in mind the 400,000 deaths of American soldiers including those of Ashby Vaughan, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss, and Don Meier.  I believe that truly we are all standing on the shoulders of those who went before us.  When Monday comes, I hope that you will give some thought to the fellows that I have mentioned today.  They were brave men and, as I have said, they were good men.”

Now that you have seen the video of my remarks, I wish to call attention to the actions on the part of the Brownies at this school who honored me.  One Sunday morning in early November four years ago, my wife answered the doorbell to find a youngster standing on the doorstep.  She asked if a veteran lived in this house.  My wife answered affirmatively and pointed to me.  At this point the youngster, a Brownie of Glenwood School, handed a package to my wife and departed.  It happened again on two subsequent occasions.  When we opened the package given to us by the Brownie, there was a flag, some chocolate kisses, and a card handwritten by the children.  The burden of the card was to thank me for my service to the country.

The fact of the matter is that I was gone for a little more than three years, but when I returned I simply went back to work.  I had no thought whatsoever that any thanks were owed to me.  I was simply doing my duty.  Kids from the Glenwood School in the Brownie organization on three occasions have honored me.  By thanking me, they tell me that my fellow citizens still remember.

One of the children involved in the Brownie program honoring Veteran’s Day was in Mrs. Briber’s class.   I again thanked her.

At that point, I asked the student audience if they had any questions.  There were a couple of questions that memory does not bring to mind at the moment.  But then came a question that I was anticipating.  The question was, “Were you scared?”

My answer came almost immediately.  “I was scared spitless.”  There were other questions about how it feels to be in battle.  I gave them essentially the same answer.

I came away with the feeling that my fellow students, aged about 10 years, appreciated the fact that others who had gone before them had sacrificed.  Some of them made the supreme sacrifice.  More than anything else, I wanted to impress upon them that when duty calls, it must be answered.

I spent the better part of a morning with my fellow students in the fourth grade class.  When the festivities were finished, I am delighted to tell you that they treated me much as another kid.  When I gave Rachel a problem in algebra, she had the answer immediately.  I said, “If I got to grade school at the age of six, what year was I born?”  Rachel had the answer on the top of her head.  She said it was 1922.  And she disclosed that her grandmother had the same birth year.  Then there was a fellow named Sean, which is the Irish spelling.  And when I asked him if he was Irish, it turned out that he was Chinese.  Mrs. Briber had warned me that her class represented many nations.

My final question to the class was if it would be a good idea to take Miss Chicka to lunch.  Early in the proceeding, I had introduced Miss Chicka, who sat next to me to help me if I got stumped.  The class answered unanimously that it would be a good idea to take her lunch, and that is indeed what we did.

And so the matriculation of Sergeant Carr ended with the presentation of a fruit basket from the class.  Since we are vegetarians, the gift was more than welcome.  We not only appreciated the fruit but we also appreciated the “thank you” card for our visit.  It was an elaborate card, which is reproduced here in full color.  Once again, I say that the matriculation of Sergeant Carr of the Army of the United States has been completed.

The American Army does things mysteriously.  For those who were enlisted before December 7 of 1941, the designation was The United States Army.  For those who came after December 7, the Army created a classification called the Army of the United States as opposed to The United States Army.  I suspect that this did not scare the Germans or the Japanese one iota.  But it made the brass in Washington feel as though they had done their duty.

It must also be stated that the luncheon at Basilico with Miss Chicka was a great success.  I am sorry that my classmates from the fourth grade of Glenwood School could not have joined me.  But they had work to do.

Taking one thing with another, I am feeling uplifted by the state of American education, particularly as it refers to the Millburn school system.  The students were interested and bright.  They represented a cross-section of American culture.  They asked penetrating questions.  I suppose that Mrs. Briber has her hands full to keep ahead of her students.  But in the end, I am glad that I spent the morning with my fellow matriculators.

 

E. E. CARR

June 4, 2011

Essay 553

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Kevin’s commentary: Find Pop’s commentary to Mrs. Briber’s class here. I hope that Pop is invited back for another memorial day, if he feels up to it. I wish I could get ahold of the DVD mentioned, because I’d like to see it. Maybe one day I can go to the Library of Congress and check it out. I also respect Pop for taking the time to honor his friends instead of discuss his own accomplishments, which were numerous.

Speaking of the Japanese and the Germans, the latter has pledged military support to the former in the event that North Korea tries to nuke something. I just read about it today, check it out here: http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/germany-gives-japan-its-backing-as-n-korea-tensions-rise

 

THE WEINER AFFAIR AND AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

This essay is being written after Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress.  In his disgrace, former Congressman Weiner has earned a bit of admiration on my part.

For the past day or two, it has been obvious that former Congressman Weiner had no choice but to resign from Congress.  Resigning from his Congressional seat is one thing.  I suspect that when he is faced with the fury of his wife, that will be a different story.

But this afternoon, former Congressman Weiner appeared at the site in Brooklyn where he had launched his campaign for the Congressional seat that he held.  My admiration goes to such a person who makes no excuses about his conduct.  That is exactly what Anthony Weiner did this afternoon.  He did not have his wife standing on the stage with him.  Again, I applaud that move.  The fact is that Weiner simply admitted to having screwed up the situation, including his first story of his email being hacked.  He stood on the stage alone and accepted full responsibility with fulsome apologies to his wife for the trouble that he had caused her and to his constituents.

It is obvious that the Congressman lied to the public on repeated occasions.  In this case, Anthony Weiner was caught and simply said, “I did it.”  I know that there will be pundits who will kick the corpse.  That is not the way I do things.  I regret that Anthony Weiner had to resign because for a good many years, Weiner was an effective Congressman.  But when the time finally came for him to go, he simply acknowledged that fact and submitted his resignation.  No one accompanied him on stage when he announced his resignation, and there were no bitter tears.

I am quite certain that the Weiner affair is not over.  But it is not in my nature to beat a dead horse.  In this case, Weiner has admitted his mistakes and has taken full blame for them.  He is only 46 years of age, and I suspect that before life is done, we may again have to consider his candidacy.  I am sorry to see Weiner depart in the circumstances that prevailed.  But he did so with admirable restraint.

 

The second part of this essay is thoroughly unrelated to the first, and has to do with the argument that there is an exceptionalism about the American spirit.  After traveling over most of the world, I have come to the conclusion that every nation will contend that theirs is an exceptional nation.  To claim that Americans have exceptional skills or attributes makes me cringe.  When I worked with AT&T, my job was to visit the overseas communications organizations that offered overseas services.  I am glad that Newt Gingrich was not around to proclaim American exceptionalism.  If that had been the case, there would have been several hundred protests from other nationalities claiming the same distinction.

But Newt is gone now, or fairly close to being gone, and it is hoped that the claim of American exceptionalism goes with him.  We have a right to be proud in this country, but this pride is no greater than the pride that swells in the bosom of other nationalities.  But once again, I cringe whenever I hear the phrase as enunciated by Newt Gingrich and other politicians that “Americans are exceptional.”  If those remarks were intended for domestic consumption only, that would be one thing.  But the speed of communications is such these days that any cry of American exceptionalism will be heard on foreign shores.  If Mr. Gingrich exits the race for the presidency, I will applaud that exit.  In the meantime, I will continue to cringe every time it is proclaimed that Americans are exceptional.

 

E. E. CARR

June 16, 2011

Essay 557

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Kevin’s commentary: Americans are exceptional sometimes, though! We’re exceptionally fat, for instance. We are exceptionally bad at learning other languages. The list goes on.

Writing from 2013, we have indeed not heard much from Wiener lately. This is probably for the best. But yes, after some initial foibles, he actually did okay damage control. Contrasted against, say, Mark Sanford, the man is a genius and handled the whole situation rather well.