Veterans Day


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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29 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    My God, Pat, this essay is stunning.  And powerful.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the horrors we moderns associate with war have always been so.

    If Rufus gets the anthology together, this will be the first thing I vote to include.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    A wonderful essay. Definitely to be included in the collection.Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:


  4. What a tremendous story: heartbreaking, thoughtful, contemplative, and wise. Thanks for sharing!Report

  5. BlaiseP says:

    A remarkable account, exceedingly well-written.

    My grandfather and grandmother were missionaries in south west China to the Lisu people of the Salween River valley, a tributary of the Mekong River.   My grandfather came down from the mountains to purchase supplies and met two Americans in Kunming, agents of the OSS.   Mao Zedong had retreated west in good order on the Long March and those agents were watching him.   They advised my grandfather to leave China, believing the Japanese would beat Chiang Kai Shek.

    On their advice, my grandfather brought my grandmother down from the mountains on the back of a donkey, heavily pregnant with their fourth child.   They took the train to extract their children at the mission school in Chefoo, that building now converted into the Chinese equivalent of Annapolis, the naval school.

    The British who ran the school ridiculed the idea of any possible threat.   The Japanese were not at war with the British or Americans.   My grandfather pulled his children out anyway and took them all to Shanghai.

    In the port of Shanghai lay two freighters, one American with three berths and a Japanese freighter with sufficient berths for his whole family.   My grandfather bet on the Japanese freighter which sailed to Rangoon.   From there, the family travelled to Honolulu and from thence to Seattle Washington, where they arrived on the first of December, 1941.

    We all know what happened on the seventh.   Most of my mother’s childhood friends died in Japanese concentration camps.   When I began to learn that language, my mother had a bad moment.  My grandfather is buried with his Chinese Bible.

    My grandfather and grandmother went on to start the first Bible college for the education of black pastors in the USA, in an abandoned pool hall in East Point Georgia.  My grandfather remembered Martin Luther King, Senior rather better than his famous son, who he remembers teaching in Sunday School class.

    Time and tide have taken their toll.   Those who told the tale to me are now dead.   It was not my story in the telling but has become mine, the legacy of many cups of tea and idle scraps of conversation.   I should have asked more questions, gotten more details.   Patrick got those details and I didn’t.   I have my grandfather’s letters, in his precise Chinese calligraphy.   My own sloppy Japanese calligraphy can never match his.   But then, I didn’t beat my kids the way he beat his, the way I was beaten.   Though they were my heroes, I never truly accepted the burden of my parents’ and my grandparents’ legacy, becoming a fourth generation missionary.   Stories only become safe when the participants are well and truly dead.

    Count no man happy until he is dead, so said Sophocles in Oedipus Rex.   I might counter with Patrick’s happy remembrance:

    I don’t know if he qualifies as anyone’s idea of a hero.  He didn’t win the medal of honor.  I never heard a story of him bailing out a buddy in a firefight.  I’m sure he’d say that whoever helped him on the march was more of a hero than he was.  I’ll tell you this, though, if I ever am called to display any sort of fortitude in my life I hope it happens that I inherited some of his iron.Report

  6. dexter says:

    Very well written piece Mr. Cahalan.  And what Mr. Fox said.Report

  7. Megan says:

    That one postcard where he says, “Tell Marie not to wait” gets me every time. Every damn time. Although, I wouldn’t be here if she had, so…there’s that.Report

  8. Meaghan says:

    Thank you for sharing Pat.Report

  9. Pat Cahalan says:

    Uncle John saw the post via Facebook and he tells me Grandpa Mo was awarded the Bronze Star in addition to the ubiquitous Purple Heart.

    You learn things about your relatives every day.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      It sounds like both were well deserved.Report

    • Franz Schubert in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      My goodness, Pat, just a remarkable, tour de force, deeply moving, heartbreaking, yet heartwarming post you’ve written. It’s very beautiful–dammit, you’ve given me a very large lump in my throat! I’m sorry, that line from Sophocles is just an awful, horrid, condemnation of the living. I much prefer Bach’s, “my dear sweet Lord and Savior, please take my hand and gently lead me on.” And how did Sophocles ever become the voice and spokesman of the dead? To the best of my knowledge, “Flatliners” wasn’t showing on the local Greek silver screens, and even back then, I’m not aware of anyone taking a trip to the other side and then returning to this side to gloriously proclaim the transcendental rapture that awaits us. These are the words of suicidal, doomsday cultists–their inability to accept and embrace life as it is and, like it or not, the pain and suffering, that comes with it. We are all with this and we are all in this journey, together. Pat, again, thanks so very, very much for the beautiful and thoughtful words about your grandfather. You have done yourself very proud and I have no doubt your grandfather has shed a tear or two at your beautiful, honest, poignant evocation. It’s a masterpiece–bravo!! The one and only member of the human race who has grasped the ultimateReport

    • Bozo The Imbecile in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      Pat, again many thanks for your beautiful words on Veterans Day.  I printed this out and brought it to my parents.  They were both moved to tears.  My father is a veteran of Battle of the Bulge and somehow survived a German hand grenade blowing up a quarter of his body–ended up spending several months recovering in a French hospital. He was deeply moved by your eloquent words–he rarely will ever discuss his experiences in WW2, but he wanted to thank you from the bottom of his heart for your gracious words and thoughts on this most solemn of days, Veterans Day. Thanks, Pat.  An incredible piece of writing, sir. A grand slam all the way around–you’ve touched many people and I’m sure all of them are deeply grateful as well.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Bozo The Imbecile says:

        Thanks, Bozo.

        Tell your Dad I think he should write it down.  Sharing this sort of stuff directly would be difficult to an extent I can’t imagine; I don’t know if I could sit down with my son or my eventual grandkids and talk about what happened to me in The War, if I experienced anything like this.

        But people should know.  Almost all we can do is guess about what Maurice did to cope with his experience… like my aunt says below the first she heard him talk about any of it was on his deathbed.  He died with a lot of his experience going unshared and any way you slice it, that’s a horrible loss.Report

  10. Ken says:

    Terribly moving.Report

  11. kylie tai says:

    so many people are heroes in so many ways.

    this was a marvellous read, pat. thank you for being the storykeeper and teller. mo would appreciate it tooReport

  12. JoAnn Pechota says:

    Beth sent me this- since I don’t do Facebook. Very lovely Patrick. Grandpa Mo was difficult, loving, brilliant and often very hard to live with. In retrospect, he suffered mightily and silently from PTSD. He was talking about prison camp in the ER on his deathbed in his delirium…and that was the first time I really heard anything about it. He had a lot of strength. LUV you – Aunt JoAnnReport

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to JoAnn Pechota says:

      Thanks, Aunt JoAnn!

      Say hey to George for me.Report

      • Bozo The Imbecile in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Pat, forgive me and I don’t want to appear petty after the beautiful masterpiece you’ve just composed but  I’m pretty sure it’s, Veterans Day, not  Veteran’s Day–it’s not a plural possesive. My head shall forthwith be delivered on a silver platter! Das tut mir Leid!Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Bozo The Imbecile says:

          Egads, by gum, I’ve done and gone and made myself an embarrassment on teh Interwebs.  Thanks, I’ll correct.Report

          • Bozo The Imbecile in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Pat, I’ve been thinking about this and I think a good argument can be made for Veteran’s Day as you had it spelled.  Any grammar cops around here? And who cares?   It might be time to pull out the old, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones metaphor. And you are NO embarrassment!! You wrote one of the most beautiful, moving essays about Veteran(‘s) I’ve ever read. And no one can ever diminish the power and beauty of your words on such an occasion.Report

        • Bozo The Imbecile in reply to Bozo The Imbecile says:

          But then again, Pat,  maybe you are right and then I’ll feel like a  bigger heel than I already feel like right now.  Sheeeeesh!Report

  13. I only just now stumbled across this.

    What a wonderful, moving remembrance.  Thank you for taking the time to write such a wonderful piece.Report