I was on the phone with my Aunt Elaine a couple weeks ago, as the insanity of the new Regime was hitting it’s first crescendo with the Muslim Ban. She’s 95, but expresses to me frequently how she wishes she could go protest with everyone else. She knows a thing or two about sacrificing for country, as her first husband was severely injured in the Pacific Theater, which led to her supporting him while he tried to recover in a military hospital in San Diego for about a year.
I’ve actually been on the street in front of the house where she lived while on the phone with her in the fall of 2013, and it’s probably the most we ever talked about him. They didn’t stay together, and I believe it’s a sad story that the details are too much to revisit. I know very little, and care too much to dig deeper. But, I do know that he was the love of her life, and that war stole that future from them.
Her father, my Grandfather, Harry Hanna, was born in 1889 in Lancaster, PA. That’s not a typo. He joined the Army at age 16 and was in the Cavalry during an era when they were changing from horses to being mechanized. He was all over the Western US, when many of the states were still territories. And, he was with General Peshing when they chased Poncho Villa back into Mexico.
He served in World War I in France, and was gassed in the trenches of immeasurable death and misery, twice. Got a medal for it, and was one of the few enlisted people to be made into an officer. Returning home, he was always connected to the military, but had a career as a printer in Chicago for the rest of his life.
We don’t know many details because he never talked about his experiences. I’ve got several things that were passed down from those days, but the family didn’t keep much, so it’s hard to put together a detailed story about his experiences.
So, I asked my Aunt about why he originally joined the military in 1905, and her answer was typically blunt and funny: “To eat! The same reason as they all did!”
It was true then, and is probably equally true through much of our American history – many people join the military as a pragmatic choice to simply survive. The early industrial era was quite brutal, and after researching our family tree, there are so many lives you can see that were cut short. You don’t get all the reasons, but the combination of a lack of safety in workplaces, and just a dangerous environment overall led to many broken families.
But, there was another part of his story that was actually shared on both sides of my family. Both of my grandfathers tried to enlist in World War 2. On my Dad’s side, my Grandpa, Harry Mowery (yeah, two Harry’s for grandpas), walked into the recruitment office and signed up. He came home proud of his choice, and my Grandma, Sarah Mowery, marched right back to that office, and did something that arguably should not and could not have happened: She un-enlisted him.
We believe she argued that he had 8 kids at home, which was quite true. Including several that were quite young. My grandma was known for her, let’s call it directness, and somehow she got him out. A true family legend.
Back on my Mom’s side, Grandpa Hanna tried to enlist in 1942, at the ripe age of 53. They simply would not take him because he was too old.
I asked her what had happened between 1905 and 1942, where a young man made a pragmatic choice, then suffered the consequences while obviously witnessing the horrors of trench warfare in the fields of France, to then decide to put himself, also with a young child at home (my Mom, who was only 8 at the start of the war), back into harms way.
It would seem to me that somewhere over that arc of time, there was a call to stand up to murderous dictators overseas that both my grandpa’s heard and did not hesitate to run towards. Something so obviously wrong, that the only right and good chocie was to join the effort to defeat the powers that we’d later learn became the benchmark for evil going forward.
So, I asked my aunt about this because, as I approach my 50th birthday this year, and having never served in the military, or frankly in any public capacity, why I am feeling so strongly drawn to contribute to the effort to defeat what I perceive as the greatest threat to our nation in our lifetime. The only difference, however, is that this time, it’s from within. Well, it’s kind of both within and and external threat, but that’s a developing story that is moving quickly from plausible, to possible, to now what appears to be quite probable.
But, I’ve always been a pacifist. I’m known for being someone who is “against” guns, but really am just for using logic and reason for a more sensible policy while respecting Constitutional rights. And, I certainly understand that sometimes the war is brought to you. Yet, I am a firm believer that there is a peaceful and non-violent path from every situation, no matter how intense and near the brink.
Yet, I feel this call to duty without knowing my purpose.
My aunt can sometimes get a bit melancholy when we get into these discussions. She said that she’s been around 95 years, and still questions what her purpose is, as if she’s never had one. She didn’t have children, and the loves of her lives have been gone some time. She’s the last one standing, literally.
I said to her: Maybe your purpose is to help me find mine. And, I’m not just trying to comfort her. Because, some days, I feel like only the people with the perspective of having lived through true threats to country understand how the storm forms swiftly before moving in, and how there is sometimes a need to get up and do something about it. I mean, the people who brought me up were truly from another century and era, and that makes a huge difference in how you see the world.
She laughed, and said it just might be true. And, she then told me that while I might not be the best candidate for hand to hand combat on a battlefield as a small guy, but that there were ways for me to contribute. But, she understood the call to duty, and said that if my talent was to be a writer and communicator, that in a war that appears to be about information more than anything else, a man with the capacity to write and communicate might just be the right person to join the resistance to overcome the threat.
I believe the pen is mightier than the sword, and therefore carries perhaps even greater responsibility than being safe with a weapon. Words can heal, but they can also do harm. And, we appear to be up against a Regime who uses words in perhaps the most destructive manner any of us have seen in our lifetimes.
While many cheer him on, as every authoritarian tyrant has masses to enable the ever-increasing egomania and narcissism. But, rather than feeling the desire to avoid being the target, or to run away, I feel a strong desire to head straight into the crossfire and use the talents and gifts I’ve been given to overcome perhaps the greatest disinformation tidal wave humanity has ever seen. I do not fear this, at all.
The key is not to lose my own humanity and compassion to anger and hate in the process. To use words to bring our brothers and sisters back to the right side of history – with open arms. Some say changing minds is impossible, but some also said storming a beach in Normandy was suicide.
It may not be as brave as someone who faces guns, bombs, and people that want to cut off your head. And, I think I’m starting to appreciate those that heard and answered those calls more than ever. But, I cannot sit this one out.
And, knowing that those that have seen this before in their lifetimes support me gives me the confidence I’m doing the right thing. I hope and pray that my contributions make a difference.
It’s my time to serve.