Upon reaching my early 60s, I said to my father, “I am an old man now.” Given that he was in his 80s, Daddy staunchly announced that I was not yet old. Shortly before his death in 2012, when I was about 65, Daddy looked at me and said, “You are old now.” There were times when I would call this wise father of mine and ask, “What are you doing?” He would often respond, “Just sitting on the back porch, watching the grapes grow.” It meant he was sitting there musing: reflecting on his life, what was happening around him, what the future might present … no matter how brief that future might be.
I know what he was doing because, now that I am old, I do more than my fair share of musing. That has especially been my mode over the last week. Happenings in my life often bring on musing moments. However, one recent moment turned into a week and is still with me.
This current musing session started Nov. 11, when my wife and I went to a couple of events at Fayetteville’s Airborne and Special Operations Museum. The first event was a show called “On the Air: A Tribute to Bob Hope.” I expected a video of some of his USO shows. Instead, Lynn Roberts dressed like, talked like and performed a Bob Hope USO show while imitating Hope in every way. Not only did he perfectly imitate Hope, but he did the same for Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante and Red Skelton. It was an amazing show. For those who do not know Bob Hope or the other performers, I encourage you to do an internet search and learn a bit about them.
Roberts’ perfect impression of Hope started me musing about having seen a Bob Hope USO show while the U.S. Navy ship I was assigned to was making a port call in Singapore. This was in the early 1970s. Between 1941 and 1991, Hope traveled all over the world, doing 57 USO tours and entertaining American military personnel. Beyond the show, I remember seeing Hope shopping in a downtown jewelry store. The store closed so he could shop, but passersbys could easily see him through the huge glass walls. Over 40 years later, I remember that he was wearing a light-colored sports jacket and brownish slacks, both of which screamed top-quality.
Thinking about Hope started me musing upon present-day entertainers. Bob Hope clearly loved America, was thankful that this was his home and was, in my estimation, the epitome of class. As I look at most of today’s entertainers, people who make millions for singing a few songs, talking about meaningless topics on TV or other mediums, playing some sport that produces nothing of real value and so forth … I long for there to be some Bob Hopes. Missing Bob Hope, and so many others like him, grows out of seeing far too many entertainers conduct themselves in ways that show a lack of love and appreciation for America, while exhibiting zero class. The lack of class, of polish, shows in their dress, speech, conduct and general presence.
After the show, we walked out to visit a traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall. It was set up in a grassy area behind the museum. As I stood there looking at sections of the Wall where the names of 58,220 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War are inscribed, I realized I could see my reflection on the Wall. That reflection did not cover the inscribed names, but seemed to appear behind them. As I looked at that picture, it hit me like a bolt of lightning: These men and women died; they gave their all so that I, and millions of other Americans, could be free. Not only did these individuals die, but across the wars in our history, hundreds of thousands have died, and even more have been wounded.
With some help from a guide, I found the name of Willie Clyde Robinson Jr. He was a Marine Corps lance corporal and was 19 years old when he gave all in Thua Thien Province, Aug. 25, 1967. His name is at panel 25E, line 44. I attended Clyde’s funeral back home in Camilla, Georgia. He was a year or two behind me at Camilla Consolidated School. We played together on the school’s football team. I remember him as a kind young man with tremendous promise. In spite of all his promise and kind spirit, Clyde is on that wall. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he died so that hundreds of millions of Americans could go on being free.
By the time this column appears in Up & Coming Weekly , Thanksgiving 2017 will have come and gone. Americans will have gathered and reflected on what we are thankful for. As I write this, I can, through my tears, still see my reflection on that Vietnam Memorial Wall. I see all those names, including Willie C. Robinson Jr., and am thinking about the hundreds of thousands of others who gave all, and the some 2 million who have been wounded, in order to keep us free.
The question now fueling my musing is whether or not the totality of our actions in 2017, as a nation, reflects genuine thanks for the freedom that is ours, in great part, because of those who gave all, those who were wounded and those who serve right now in the military of our nation. I think the answer is a resounding “No!” If you doubt me, take an honest look at the condition of America. Words of thanks are meaningless when actions are inconsistent with those words. I contend that, as a nation, we have a consistency problem. We claim appreciation for freedom but, more and more, our actions tell a different story.