What Day This Is

I am mindful of what day this is, the only holiday we celebrate on its real date; the only one not nudged this way or that to give us the coveted three-day weekend: It’s the birthday of this nation, for which so many died.

My husband’s uncle was in the Big War and did not die, stationed as he was for three long years in the South Pacific.

Last July Fourth, while the rest of us were whining even with our air conditioners going full blast, he was making do with a single fan and the blue bandanna he wore around his neck to wick up sweat. He had AC; it came with his building. He just wouldn’t use it.

“Hot?” he’d say to me when I came to get him and take him out for our times together. “THIS isn’t hot! In the jungle temperatures routinely hit 120!”

I loved Uncle Ed ever since I met him on first coming into my husband’s family as a girl of 19; but it wasn’t until one day in the fall of 2006 that I came to really know him.

That was the day he stepped into the back room of his little place and came forth with at a worn three-ring binder filled with his original writings, clips of the dispatches that were sent back and published in a Boston based paper called The Hairenik Weekly aimed at the Armenian-American community of which he was a part.

“I’ve never shown this book to anyone until now,” he told me.

“Can we look at it together?”

“No!” he said. “Read it alone. Read it and keep it.”

So I kept it, for six years, but within a month I had transcribed every word of it and carefully unglue and reglued some of the photos mounted there too.

The one you see at the top is one such. “Edward Haidostian,” he had written in fine black ink. “The Island of Biak.”

The clips are of are poems, profiles and meditations.

“Enemy supplies line these dead places––burnt, battered, and useless,” one begins. “Piles of rice lay scattered all about rotting––spread over the land by the blasts of bombs and the power of attack. Motors lay smashed. Fragments of planes strew the ground. Exploded shells are everywhere. Paper, refuse, fill the beach and the stench of death is keen in the nostrils.”

“The water is smoothed into quiet ripples by the brisk breeze,” another ends. “The passing barges and harbor craft leave a wake that widens and lingers in a long sweep in the calm water. Sunlight and moonlight, in turn, glint on the small waves at the shore. The sea and the jungles glow in the brilliance of the setting sun and the stars sparkle high above it all in the stillness of the night.”

I re-read these words and meet again a man I will never see again.

“Keep the book” he had said and I kept it – until the day three months ago when, alone in his apartment, he died, between the hours of 6:00 and 11:00pm as I concluded afterward, I who found him lying dead like a soldier felled in battle after all, his head having smashed through the flimsy wooden door of the bathroom vanity,

I think of him every day and today especially.

Last night I watched again Terrence Malick’s film adaptation of The Thin Red Line and was struck anew by how much it reminded me of this man so lately lost: the way it covers another horrific battle also fought in the South Pacific; the way it has much of the same hauntingly beautiful classical music in it that he loved and played on his little hi-fi.

Here posted are two snapshots of the man as he looked stationed on the island of Biak in that war, with all of life ahead of him if he could but survive it.

How I wish I had known him then.

I think of him and all the others who left their youth behind in war for our sakes. It takes an artist to make beauty of the experience. Uncle Ed did it and so did Terrence Malick, as this clip will attest.

10 thoughts on “What Day This Is

  1. I only saw The Thin Red Line once when it first came out. But it made quite an impression on me. I have it saved on my DVR though just waiting for the right moment to fire it up. Maybe that’s now.

    What I took away from it was that underneath all the horrors that man inflicts on this planet, the essential beauty of the earth, of life, still survives….even in the midst of it. Nothing can change that; not even war. I think the same apples to people too. No matter what life brings our way, no matter how much that changes the face we show the world, the essential good that defines us as humans still remains. Just have to dig deep for it sometimes….

    Happy 4th of July!

  2. What remains in my mind is the picture you shared of him holding a baby, the baby looking up at him, his big, capable hands gently enfolding the baby’s head – he was a handsome man for sure. I am sure you miss him all the time.

  3. What a moving tribute on this 4th of July, Terry. Uncle Ed gave his three-ring binder to the right person.

    1. Ah true Carol. A woman once gave me a Smith College yearbook from 1901 with all these remarks that its owner scribbled in it about her classmates over the decades . The woman was actually going to THROW IT AWAY! can you imagine ??!

  4. Uncle Ed expressed himself eloquently. I thank God for men like Uncle Ed, my dad and uncles and all who have served. You should publish his writings. It would fit in Band of Brothers and other books about that time.

    My dad would only tell funny stories about the war. If you asked about other experiences he would clam up and say he didn’t remember. He never wrote about them either. He had a trunk filled with WWII uniforms, etc. One day I was led to read his “notebook.” It was filled with official papers and photos. One document was an account of the events that led to him being awarded a bronze star. I felt like I was watching “Saving Private Ryan” as I read those words.

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