Memorial Day

The grandpa that I ate burgers with as a kid in smoggy San Pedro, CA was no adopter of high technology and could not have predicted his return on the Internet. When the court’s IT staff installed a 1980s monochrome terminal in his judge’s chambers, he rejected the device as a mystifying intruder.

“What is a computer?” he used to ask us from his large black easychair. I don’t think he wanted to know the answer. My brother would say something about 6502 machine language and Grandpa would lose interest.

But this year when we received word from advertisers in New Zealand that they wanted to use one of Grandpa’s letters to promote Stephen Spielberg’s The Pacific in their country, we agreed, to pay respect to Grandpa and his service.

Grandpa was one of three brothers who served in World War II, triggering the Saving Private Ryan Rule. Along the way, he interrogated POWs, became a guerrilla chieftain and saw himself as a soldier in a struggle between Japanese feudalism and American industrialism, as he wrote home in 1945 to his wife Clara in L.A.

He would have been the last guy to get sentimental about some fuzzy idea that Americans owe him our Bill of Rights for witnessing horrors in Okinawa and sleeping under artillery shells in Leyte. Instead Grandpa agreed with General Smedley Butler, who called war a racket.

But Abe hated brutality in all forms. And in the yellowed box of letters that my dad and I converted to blog entries in the last couple years, you can see Grandpa’s distrust of warring nations mingling with hope of helping people like Acquilino, a young Filipino with med school dreams blocked by poverty and a brother imprisoned by the Emperor’s troops.

And so that’s why people waiting for their MAXX buses in Auckland, NZ can look up from their iPods at a poster reprinting the story of an Army mail call in summer, 1943, when GIs dug a hole in the earth for a candy bar.
– John