Friday, June 22, 2007

Glimpses of My Father on the Silver Screen

My mom often talked about how my dad looked a lot like Humphrey Bogart. I could never see it, but then, I didn't really know much about "Bogie" back in the day. There were, in fact, quite a few physical similarities between the two. Brown eyes, slender build, slightly receding hairline, determined jaw, and an often-pensive facial expression--all of these could easily describe either man. But this was before video rentals, classic film tributes, and cable T.V. When Mom would tell us how much Dad looked like "Bogie" we had no true reference point. Back then, the only time they ran a classic movie (except for "The Wizard of Oz") on television was on The Late Show--long past bedtime.

But lately, I've been seeing Dad in some of these classic films, if you know what I mean. I think of Mom watching these same movies and after all this time I think I understand her. "Bogie" was a movie star long before my folks met, so she had an idea of what "Bogie" was about when she met my dad and recognized these qualities in him. However, I don't find my father in "High Sierra," "Angels With Dirty Faces," "The Petrified Forest," or "The Desperate Hours." Bogart's fine creation of such menacing villains in these films obliterates any sort of semblance between him and my father. No, to see glimpses and glints of my dad on the silver screen you have to watch and listen to the devoted family/working man in "They Drive By Night," the quiet, war veteran turned hero in "Key Largo," or the hard-driving, stoically passionate riverboat captain in "The African Queen." The "Bogie" character Mom found to be the most like my dad had to be Rick, the reluctant warrior in America's most-beloved film, "Casablanca." Like the rest of the Greatest Generation and much of the Heartland in general, Rick is reluctant to battle and when is finally forced into it he fights for liberation--never for conquest. "Still Waters Run Deep" sings the song and that was my father as it still is for much of America. When there is even so much as talk of attacking America we reluctant warriors gear up. Remember these lines from "Casablanca"?

Major Strasser (of Hitler's SS): Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me.
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.

My dad didn't live to see September 11, 2001. But I know how he would have responded because the day after Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the army at the age of 17. Later on, his work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory helped win the Cold War.

Devoted. Patriotic. Passionate. Hard-working. War Veteran. Quiet. As the years roll on, my pride in him grows. I see in him what my mother saw, but I would have to add that he also closely resembled a resident of one of those "...certain sections of New York." Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

D-Day, Reagan, and The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc

I can't think of a better way to commemorate today, D-Day, than to watch the Gipper's speech from this day in 1984. What remains relevant to today is our purpose and motive for fighting evil:

"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt."

Today I'll be thinking not just of all the people from my parents' generation who fought in WWII, but of all the people who have served in the U.S. military.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Sgt. York and a Journey of Faith

On Memorial Day, Terese and I got to see Sgt. York starring Gary Cooper on Turner Classic Movies. What a movie! Once in a while, at least during the Golden Age, Hollywood got it right. In 1941, when Sgt. York was made, Hollywood wasn't in the business of making apologies for America. The "Blame America First" crowd was around but much fewer in number than they are these days. The only real change the studio made in this story was to elevate York's rank from corporal to sergeant. I think Corporal York would have worked just as well. As Shakespeare says, "What's in a name?"

Gary Cooper plays real-life WWI hero, Alvin York, who single-handedly captures a German battle position at Argonne, France. The story includes several fascinating references to passages from the Bible as York tries to reconcile his faith in God with killing the enemy. Those familiar with the Bible in the original Hebrew know the Sixth Commandment reads, "Thou shalt not murder," rather than the oft-misquoted, "Thou shalt not kill." After basic training, an understanding captain allows York to return home to think about what he really believes and tells him, "If you still feel this way when you get back, I'll sign your discharge papers myself." At the end of a terrific scene when York searches his soul from a mountain promontory overlooking the Tennessee valley that is his home, he realizes he must heed the Lord's instruction to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." So, York returns to the army knowing he must do his duty.

What is remarkable about York's journey of faith is the answer he gives for his reason in fighting the Germans so valiantly in the face of almost certain death. He attacks, and then kills the German machine gunners and hand grenadiers he says, because he wants to save lives. In the end, York defeats his external enemy, the Germans on the battlefield, and with divine guidance, a warrior's most dreadful internal enemy--doubt.

Some folks say we were a much different country then and that is very true. But the perception in Hollywood production offices and New York boardrooms nowadays is that patriotism and a sense of civic duty are foolish, unseemly, and of course, politically incorrect. They want nothing less than to undermine our men and women in uniform via negative public opinion which they foster and stoke at every turn. It makes me fervently wish with all my heart they'd take some time off for reflection and yes, prayer--maybe even from a mountain promontory back home.