Memo From Mac



The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

"Semper Fi, Mac ..." 

Some readers when distressed, even outraged, blame my ideas on poor Marx and Lenin, and darkly suggest I'm on the Kremlin payroll. Or ought to be.

O! If it were only that simple!

Let me tell you how it really is, sometimes.

I sit here at 3:38 in the morning. Outside my second-story study window, the thermometer reads eight below zero. The glow of the street lamp spills over the frozen slopes of snow, down toward the icy dark of the river.

I'm awake because I foolishly riled up the old war souvenir, shoveling my car out of a snowdrift. The bright blue expensive antibiotic the doctor believes in hasn't taken hold yet, and I distrust the pretty plump pink and gray Darvons. So, here I sit with my thoughts.

And with Paul Rucker's thoughtful letter about the callousness of pulling out of Vietnam without justifying the sacrifice there, somehow. Paul, like many other readers, can't buy the idea of accepting 45,000 dead Americans with "Sorry about that, fellows. We goofed."

I am wondering how I would justify Iwo Jima to the old 2nd Squad of the 3rd Platoon of Eye Company.

Supposing they came walking in here now, across that ghostly slope of snow, out there by the band shell, and over the white rooftop and right in here to my warm study, dropping their gear in the corners and squatting down, and lighting up crumpled smokes.

Archie Hagemeister, Jack Devers, Leon Gordon, Manuel Markos and Louis Desforges and Jesus Garcia. They were the half who died. The other six were wounded seven counting me. The whole squad wiped out.

Suppose they came in now, and sat down and stared at me. Red Hagemeister, who had been with Carlson's Raiders, and who was always softly irreverent, would be their spokesman: "Tell us, Mac," Red would ask, honing his K-Bar blade on the little stone he always carried. "Tell us how it all came out."

I would sit there marveling at how incredibly young they all look, having escaped an entire quarter of a century. How young and sad. And I would begin ...

"Well, first of all, fellows, we ... uh ... we gave the island back."

"You gave it back," Red would repeat with a knowing nod. Red always said we'd all end up screwed.

"Yeah, last year, on the 25th anniversary. Bunch of the boys went out and shook hands with the Japs, up on the top of Suribachi ..."

"The hell you say!"

By now, Jesus would be humming that aggravating Castillian melody of his, and the Greek would be hunting for a beer, and Gordon would be looking for a place to sack out. But Red would still be quizzical:

"That little car outside. That, whadya call it ... Toyota? Isn't that a ...?"

"Yeah, you're right. But hell, Red, you gotta understand. We have to buy a lot of stuff from the Japs now. They're our number one economic ally. In fact, Toyota's the second biggest import car now, next to Volks ..."

"Volkswagen? Ain't that Hitler's little car ...?"

"Aw, come on, Red. You can't hold a grudge forever."

"Semper Fi, Mac," the Greek would say with a big grin, giving me the middle finger, "Semper Fi."

"Gave the island back, huh?" Red would murmur softly. "Why'd we ever go out there in the first place?"

"Funny thing, Red," I would reply with growing uneasiness. "Lotta people are asking that now. Just this year, a whole slew of new books are out about how the war could have been avoided if Roosevelt had listened to Ambassador Grew. Some of the historians now claim we pushed the Japs into a crack, didn't given 'em any choice ..."

"Aw, sheet!" Red would explode. "Don't gimme that. We'd of had to get in anyway, to help the Chinese. Chinese always were our best friends out there. Colonel Carlson always said ..."

"Uh ... Red ... uh ... the Chinese. They're on the other side now ..."

"Th' hell you say! Never could try that old guard bunch. Colonel Carlson, he taught us all he learned about guerrilla fighting from Mao Tse-tung on the Long March ..."

"Whoa up there Red! Wait a minute. None of that. Mao Tse-tung, he's a no-no. Ya, see ..."

"Aw, hell, Mac, you always was all wrapped up in that politics stuff. Sounds like it came out about like I figured. We all got screwed..."

"Well, more or less, Red. More or less. But it sure upsets people if you tell 'em that ..."

"Hey, Mac," the Greek would interrupt about now, "what the hell kind of liberty town is this anyway?"

"Pretty quiet, fellas," I would have to admit. "But, if you wanta go across the river ..."

"Steak and eggs, that's what I want. To hell with the women," Gordon would be growling, as they disappeared into the snow.

The last I would see would be the Greek, skipping backward through the drifts, fist upraised, with the middle finger extended.

"Semper Fi, Mac," his laughing voice would come crackling through the freezing air. "Semper Fi."

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