Tag Archives: Arlington National Cemetery

Uncle John

Uncle John   –by Jinny Batterson

Uncle John in military uniform, 1941

It’s been so long ago now that I barely remember
The annual childhood visits to Arlington’s cemetery,
To put flowers on the gravesite where your family
Eventually had you re-interred after you’d fallen
In Germany near the end of World War II.

Once I’d grown older, I asked for pictures of
What you’d looked like in life–you were blond, like
The stern dad whose name is included in yours.
You’d volunteered early for the military, convinced
That the Third Reich posed a grave danger to
Global civilization, though equally so, you thought,
Did rampant nationalism and materialism. In one of the
Pamphlets that your middle sister had printed in your
Honor and memory, you opined, “Would you die for
Your bathtub?” Perhaps somewhat germane, as I sit
In air-conditioned comfort while soldiers in distant deserts
Sweat out yet another year of armed conflict.

You were an inveterate scribbler, like this niece
You never met in life. An eldest son, one of just two
To survive to adulthood, you died in Europe a month
Shy of your thirty-fourth birthday, at about the same
Time your younger brother was among those not killed
When a kamikaze pilot damaged the aircraft carrier
Where he served in the Pacific. Dad came home and
Rarely talked about his service. He sired four children of the
Family’s next generation. In life, the two of you had argued
Passionately about politics, about human nature, but had
Worked and traveled together before war sent you to opposite
Ends of the earth. Dad had the longer physical life, and
He passed along some of your ideals along with the family genes.

You loved the outdoors, spent time on the family farm,
Went camping with friends–an heirloom snapshot shows you
Holding a coffee pot, with an improvised clothes line
Tied to a tent in the background. It’s somewhat fitting
That what physically remains of you lies among many others
On a grassy incline, partially shaded by trees, in a large area
Of “section 12” between Grant and Eisenhower Drives.

This year I won’t make it physically to your gravesite.
My worsening eyesight cannot totally decipher the
Inscription on the virtual image of your headstone
That I now can pull up thanks to a website and the
Volunteers who maintain it. Our country and others
Still engage far too often in “shooting wars,” both foreign
And domestic. Our technology now allows us to engage also
In vicious foreign and domestic cyber wars, equally dangerous.
Please rest well, Uncle John. Know that your survivors
Are doing our best to continue your legacy of service.

Armistice

Armistice    —by Jinny Batterson

My uncle was killed in Germany near the end of the “good war.”
His remains lie under a marble marker at Arlington Cemetery,
Among many others making graceful arcs
Along the slopes surrounding a former Lee family mansion.

My dad never talked coherently about the kamikaze attack
On the aircraft carrier where he served in the Pacific.
I only found out about it after he’d taken the incident
To his grave–perhaps his final Alzheimer’s-garbled
Ramblings were a belated attempt to let the trauma out.

Many of my boomer cohort were killed or scarred
By Vietnam, a tragic conflict that still
Haunts American military and political life.
Since then we’ve had Gulf wars, wars on terror,
Afghanistan. I’ve tried to teach my children
A piece of my truth,” Nobody wins a war.”

The original title of the holiday that in the U.S.A.
Now honors all veterans was Armistice Day,
Celebrating the 11 a.m., November 11, 1918
End of hostilities on the Western Front
Of the “War to End All Wars.”

We have yet to end all wars.
From current evidence, this task will take more
Generations. However, if we honor our veterans,
Encouraging them to teach their children and their
Children’s children their war truths:
Occasional heroism, frequent sacrifices, boredom,
Amid much horror and destruction, we may eventually
Create peace.

In the meantime, as our weaponry gets ever
More powerful, as our human impact on
The planet gets more pronounced, we’d be well advised,
Whatever our politics, posturing, or preening,
To make armistice with another truth: “Nature always wins.” 

Recollections of War Losses

Recollections of War Losses…            —by Jinny Batterson

(I wrote this remembrance at the urging of a friend, who in turn had a friend who helped create a moveable “swords into plowshares” bell tower replica at N.C. State over Memorial Day weekend. You can read more about this effort in an opinion piece originally published in our region’s newspaper. )

Recently we observed Memorial Day, a time set aside for remembering those who gave up life in the service of a cause greater than they were. It is very fitting that we should honor their sacrifices and remember them. The war loss that affected my family most strongly was my Uncle John, my dad’s only brother, who was killed in Europe during the final days of World War II, two and a half years before I was born. Once the war was over, my grandparents had his remains moved and reburied at Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of taking fresh flowers to Arlington at Memorial Day to put on Uncle John’s grave.  Pictures and stories are all we have of what Uncle John was like before he was killed. He left no wife or children behind.

Because of my gender, I was not drafted and sent to Vietnam like my brother-in-law; I did not volunteer and die there much too young like the boyfriend of one of my best high school friends.  Vietnam affected lots of people close to my age in lots of different ways. For some, like me, it made us even more distrustful of wars as a way to solve problems. In adulthood, I’ve tried to honor my Uncle John by searching for less harmful ways to deal with conflicts.  I’ve reduced my use of non-renewable natural resources to try to lessen the likelihood that conflicts over these resources will again erupt into warfare. I pay closer attention to the natural bounty around me—the sunshine, the rain, a beautiful late spring afternoon when some of us from different backgrounds gathered peaceably to honor those who’d gone before us, and to rededicate ourselves to building better lives for those who will come after.