When Sanity Reigned: A Passing Moment In Time

January 10, 2008 

Last night, while I sat in a neighborhood restaurant and anticipated only two things (a cold beer and a warm meal), I experienced an unexpected moment of sanity. 

Since the Northeast has been in the grips of a cold wave this past week, I dug some wool sweaters out of the cedar chest (Thank God I didn’t listen to Al Gore and throw all of my winter clothes away).  Yesterday morning I sought warmth in an old Cornell letter sweater which had kept me warm through the Ithaca winters...but never kept the lunatics at bay. 

That night, while I sat in the restaurant waiting for the waitress (major faux pas)...”server” to take my order, I noticed an elderly gentleman staring at me.  But, I didn’t have much time to think about it because the “server” was headed my way. 

As she (the “server”) slid over to my booth, I had the words “cold beer” half out of my mouth when she said, “Excuse me, the gentleman at that table would like to know what the ‘C’ on your sweater stands for.”  She pointed at the gentleman who had been staring at me. 

I told her that it was a Cornell sweater and she relayed the message back to the sender.  Within seconds he rose from his chair and, with the aid of a cane, made his way over to me.  I hoped that he wasn’t a UPenn fan getting ready to give me a good whack. 

When this gentleman, who was probably in his mid-eighties, arrived at my booth he looked me in the eye and almost apologetically said, “I’m sorry to disturb you but I just wanted to tell you that I served in the Marines with a Cornell All-American and he was a damn fine officer.” 

I immediately felt myself in the presence of my better. 

Correctly assuming that this gentleman served in WWII, I asked him which theater he served in.  His response was simple...”The hell-holes of the southern Pacific.” 

Feeling a bit of kinship, I told him that my Dad (who was active duty pre-Pearl Harbor) served his entire combat tour (the duration of the war) in New Guinea.  This elicited a quick response...”Now that was a hell-hole”. 

My Dad had just gotten some corrective surgery and I was lucky enough to be in the recovery room with him as he came out of the anesthesia. 

As Dad was shaking the effects of the anesthesia off, he finally talked to me about his time in New Guinea.  More accurately...he shared the passing moment of a single day in combat. 

From what I gathered in the recovery room, the following story either occurred during the Buna or Hollandia actions. 

Dad was telling me that during an amphibious assault there was little resistance on the beach but that casualties were mounting as a result of Japanese air strikes from a make-shift jungle airstrip whose location was unknown to the Americans.  But, luck and pluck prevailed. 

My Dad was part of a squad that captured a downed Japanese pilot. 

As he was telling me about the capture, Dad stopped talking for a moment, looked up and then looked directly at me and said, “That Jap was the most arrogant bastard I ever met” and then Dad smiled. 

Apparently, this Japanese pilot was in no mood to reveal the location of the jungle airstrip responsible for so many American losses...apparently, he was in no mood to even acknowledge that he was a prisoner. 

So, the logical question was...”So what did you do?” 

To babysit this prisoner, a hole was dug in the sand and the prisoner was buried neck-deep in this hole.  While the prisoner was busy in his arrogance, the subterranean insects went to work. 

Within hours, the location of the Japanese airstrip was known and Japanese airpower from that strip was annihilated.  Americans stopped dying...at least as a result of that airstrip. 

For a moment I was tempted to tell this story to the Marine veteran standing before me in the restaurant but decided not to.  He already knew this story and many more like it.  He lived it himself and, like my Dad, went forward to build a great post-war America. 

I just looked up at this proud Marine and said, “Thank you and have a Happy New Year.”  He replied, “I just thought you would like to know.”  And he was right. 

As he walked back to his table I couldn’t help but thinking that there was indeed a time in America when sanity reigned.   

How did we as a country get from people like him, and my Dad, as a consensus majority to people like Teddy Kennedy blathering that “Waterboarding and every other form of torture is wrong.”?  (Except the torture that Democrats inflict every time they choose non-existent Islamic sensibilities over saving American lives.) 

How did we get to the point where the New York Times tells us with absolute certainty that, “Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions”?  “Experts...generally agree”??? 

How did we get to the point as a country where the majority of the U.S. Congress believes that American casualties are preferable to dumping a bucket of water on a terrorists face? 

How did we, as a country, morph from a generation that “had their priorities right...No crybabies...No hand wringing...Just do what had to be done, don't look back, and don't apologize for doing what you needed to do”...into a gaggle of insecure and self-destructive wimps? 

How did the Greatest Generation give birth to the biggest bunch of losers?


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